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DougCo school voucher program halted

8:59 PM, Aug 12, 2011   |    comments
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The American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado and a group called Taxpayers for Public Education led the lawsuit filed in June challenging the voucher plan, claiming it violates the Colorado Constitution's religious liberty provisions, which bar the use of public funds for religious schools.

"I'm very gratified. And, the entire legal team that worked on this case is very gratified. That the judge carefully considered our arguments and the evidence that we presented and that the judge agreed with us on almost everything that we presented," Mark Silverstein, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado, said.

Of the 19 private schools on the list to receive students, 14 of them - including prominent programs like Cherry Hills and Valor Christian - push religious education with all their students that promotes their individual faiths.

School district officials argue the program is constitutional, and that students have the option not to take the religious classes.

The ACLU filed for an injunction quickly after the lottery selection because the fall semester was rapidly approaching.

In the judge's ruling, it says that school districts cannot contract with private schools "for the provision of a public education to public school students, thereby creating a clear and certain right to mandatory or permanent injunctive relief."

READ THE ENTIRE RULING OF LARUE ET AL. V. DOUGLAS COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT

After the judge's ruling, Douglas County School District released the following statement: "We believe that allowing parents to choose the best school setting for their children from a wide variety of options leads to maximum student success. The court's ruling today limits the opportunity for Douglas County parents to determine the best school fit for their children," said Douglas County Board of Education President John Carson. "This ruling is not what the people of Douglas County wanted or what we know is in the best interest of our students."

The injunction has Douglas County parents divided.

Becky Barnes' seventh grader is one of 500 students in the voucher program. He also has sensory-processing disorder.

"A normal public-school setting with that many children and that many teachers and that many classes does not suit him," Barnes said.

She says without using vouchers, she will not be able to send her son to a private school and has no idea where he or his sister - who is also in the voucher program - should report to class on Monday morning.

"You have families scrambling; you have families not knowing where their kids are going to go to school, and you have kids that are upset because they don't know what is going on," Barnes said.

But some parents said the injunction will be a good thing for the overall funding of Douglas County Schools.

"The last thing we need is more public funds to be taken away and given to private schools at this time," parent Laura Burrage said.

Burrage said the lack of funding at the schools her kids attend has made them borderline unsustainable.

"I have a girl telling me in AP Stats that there are 43 students in that class and we're just bulging at the seams and financially, everything has been cut horribly," Burrage said. "They're even asking parents now to bring in photocopy paper."

DCSD will comply with the judge's ruling, but they also set up www.choicelegalfund.org to "help support the legal battle in support of the Choice Scholarship Pilot Program."

In March, the Douglas County School District established a legal defense fund for legal challenges like this.

(KUSA-TV © 2011 Multimedia Holdings Corporation)

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