shot and a miss

Immunization exemption bill back in the shop for more work

Eight-year-old Monserrat Cholico cringes as she gets a shot at Crawford Kids Clinic in Aurora (Photo By Brent Lewis/The Denver Post).

The state’s immunization reporting law, gutted by a Republican-authored amendment unexpectedly added Thursday to a vaccination bill, will be reconsidered on Monday by the House.

The House voted 33-30 Friday for a procedural motion that takes the bill off the final consideration calendar, allowing members to debate it again Monday and consider amendments.

The change Democrats want to make is to undo a GOP amendment that unexpectedly passed Thursday.

Thursday’s 33-32 roll-call vote on that amendment caught everyone in the chamber by surprise, given that the idea had been defeated previously on a voice vote. House staffers said some Democrats may have been confused about what they were voting on.

The amendment would allow parents to voluntarily include children’s vaccination information in the state’s immunization tracking system. Current law automatically puts that information in the system and allows parents to have it removed. All children must be immunized to attend public schools, but state law allows parents to opt out for religious, medical or “personal objection” reasons.

The focus of Thursday’s debate, House Bill 16-1164, wouldn’t eliminate any of those exemptions, as prime sponsor Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, kept pointing out during debate.

The bill would require parents to file their exemption notices online with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment rather than submit paper forms to their local schools. Supporters argue the change will take a burden off school nurses and secretaries, provide more complete data to the department and be easy for parents.

Republican members were having none of it. They repeatedly raised a couple big objections during debate that stretched for more than 90 minutes.

Data privacy – “How can you guarantee this sensitive data will be protected” by the health department, asked Rep. Lois Landgraf, R-Colorado Springs.

Slippery slope – Republicans fear the bill is a prelude to eliminating exemptions. “There’s a fear that the next step is to require vaccinations,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Ignacio.

Others claimed data held by the health department wouldn’t be subject to federal student privacy law and that immunization reporting placed an unfair burden on college students.

Saying she’s received “over 700 phone calls and emails,” Landgraf added, “Everybody wanted a no vote. I don’t see how people can vote against their constituents this way” and support the bill.

Rep. Kim Ransom, R-Lone Tree, agreed.

“I don’t consider myself smarter than my constituents,” she said.

Several GOP amendments were defeated. The parent-option amendment was adopted at the end of preliminary consideration, when members are allowed to offer amendments a second time and recorded votes are taken.

The exemptions bill has been contentious from the start. A House committee spent nearly seven hours on the issue last month before passing it 7-6.

How the bill might fare in the Senate is unclear. One of the Senate prime sponsors is a Republican, Sen. Martinez Humenik of Thornton. But the last time lawmakers considered an immunization bill, in 2014, that measure passed the Senate on a close 19-16 vote. Democrats controlled the Senate that year, but the GOP now has a 18-17 majority.

The 2014 bill ultimately passed after being watered down. That bill only required CDPHE to set up immunization information website and reporting of percentages of students who aren’t immunized, broken out by school.

Turnaround 2.0

McQueen outlines state intervention plans for 21 Memphis schools

PHOTO: TN.gov
Candice McQueen has been Tennessee's education commissioner since 2015 and oversaw the restructure of its school improvement model in 2017.

Tennessee Education Commissioner Candice McQueen has identified 21 Memphis schools in need of state intervention after months of school visits and talks with top leaders in Shelby County Schools.

In its first intervention plan under the state’s new school improvement model, the Department of Education has placed American Way Middle School on track either for state takeover by the Achievement School District or conversion to a charter school by Shelby County Schools.

The state also is recommending closure of Hawkins Mill Elementary School.

And 19 other low-performing schools would stay under local control, with the state actively monitoring their progress or collaborating with the district to design improvement plans. Fourteen are already part of the Innovation Zone, the Memphis district’s highly regarded turnaround program now in its sixth year.

McQueen outlined the “intervention tracks” for all 21 Memphis schools in a Feb. 5 letter to Superintendent Dorsey Hopson that was obtained by Chalkbeat.

Almost all of the schools are expected to make this fall’s “priority list” of Tennessee’s 5 percent of lowest-performing schools. McQueen said the intervention tracks will be reassessed at that time.

McQueen’s letter offers the first look at how the state is pursuing turnaround plans under its new tiered model of school improvement, which is launching this year in response to a new federal education law.

The commissioner also sent letters outlining intervention tracks to superintendents in Nashville, Chattanooga, Knoxville, and Jackson, all of which are home to priority schools.

Under its new model, Tennessee is seeking to collaborate more with local districts to develop improvement plans, instead of just taking over struggling schools and assigning them to charter operators under the oversight of the state-run Achievement School District. However, the ASD, which now oversees 29 Memphis schools, remains an intervention of last resort.

McQueen identified the following eight schools to undergo a “rigorous school improvement planning process,” in collaboration between the state and Shelby County Schools. Any resulting interventions will be led by the local district.

  • A.B. Hill Elementary
  • A. Maceo Walker Middle
  • Douglass High
  • Georgian Hills Middle
  • Grandview Heights Middle
  • Holmes Road Elementary
  • LaRose Elementary
  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Wooddale High

These next six iZone schools must work with the state “to ensure that (their) plan for intervention is appropriate based on identified need and level of evidence.”

  • Sheffield Elementary
  • Raleigh-Egypt High
  • Lucie E. Campbell Elementary
  • Melrose High
  • Sherwood Middle
  • Westwood High

The five schools below will continue their current intervention plan within the iZone and must provide progress reports to the state:

  • Hamilton High
  • Riverview Middle
  • Geeter Middle
  • Magnolia Elementary
  • Trezevant High

The school board is expected to discuss the state’s plan during its work session next Tuesday. And if early reaction from board member Stephanie Love is any indication, the discussion will be robust.

“We have what it takes to improve our schools,” Love told Chalkbeat on Friday. “I think what they need to do is let our educators do the work and not put them in the situation where they don’t know what will happen from year to year.”

Among questions expected to be raised is whether McQueen’s recommendation to close Hawkins Mill can be carried out without school board approval, since her letter says that schools on the most rigorous intervention track “will implement a specific intervention as determined by the Commissioner.”

Another question is why the state’s plan includes three schools — Douglass High, Sherwood Middle, and Lucie E. Campbell Elementary — that improved enough last year to move off of the state’s warning list of the 10 percent of lowest-performing schools.

You can read McQueen’s letter to Hopson below:

in support

Denver school board pledges to ‘stand shoulder-to-shoulder’ with undocumented immigrants

PHOTO: John Leyba/The Denver Post
Arizona Valverde, a ninth grader at Denver's North High, holds a sign in support of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program in September 2017.

The Denver school board took a stand Thursday in support of young undocumented immigrants, urging Congress to save the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program and pledging to provide opportunities for Denver educators to teach students about immigrant rights.

“You have accomplices and luchadores in us,” said board member Angela Cobián.

Cobián, who represents the heavily Latino region of southwest Denver and is the daughter of Mexican immigrants, was one of three board members who read the resolution out loud. Board member Lisa Flores read it in English, while Cobián and board member Carrie Olson, who until being elected last year worked as a bilingual Denver teacher, took turns reading it in Spanish.

“That was the most beautiful resolution I’ve ever heard read, and it’s so important,” board president Anne Rowe said when they’d finished.

The resolution passed unanimously. It says the seven-member school board implores Congress, including Colorado’s representatives, to “protect the DREAMers, providing them with the lasting solution they deserve and an end to the uncertainty they face.”

It also says the board “recognizes the importance of educators discussing and engaging with students on this issue,” including by delivering lessons explaining the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, which provides temporary protection from deportation and work permits to immigrants under 35 who were brought to the United States as children.

President Trump announced in September that he would end the Obama-era program on March 5. Lawmakers are trying to craft a plan to provide legal protections to the approximately 800,000 immigrants who are in danger of losing their DACA status. Two different deals failed to pass the Senate Thursday night.

About 17,000 such immigrants live in Colorado. Denver Public Schools doesn’t track how many of its 92,600 students are protected by DACA, but the resolution notes that many young undocumented immigrants, often referred to as DREAMers, “have attended DPS schools their entire lives or are DPS graduates who have built their lives in our community.”

The district was also the first in the country to hire, through the Teach for America program, teachers who are DACA recipients. Cobián recognized five of those teachers Thursday.

A recent national study found that DACA has encouraged undocumented students to finish high school and enroll in college. The study also noted a decrease in teen pregnancy and an increase in the number of 17- to 29-year-old non-citizens who are working.

The resolution notes that ending DACA “will be deeply harmful to our schools and community, depriving countless students, families, and educators of their peace of mind, creating widespread fear and uncertainty, and causing significant disruption to the learning environment.”

This is not the first time the Denver school board has made a formal show of support for immigrant students. A year ago, as Trump’s presidency sparked fears of an immigration crackdown, the board unanimously approved a resolution affirming the district would do everything “in its lawful power” to protect students’ confidential information and ensure “students’ learning environments are not disrupted” by immigration enforcement actions.

Below, read in full the resolution passed Thursday.