APS says Colfax pot shop precludes charter school move

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AURORA | A marijuana dispensary is at the heart of a dispute between a charter school in north Aurora and Aurora Public Schools administration.

Vega Collegiate Academy wants to move from its current location at 1345 Macon St. into a spot at the former Afrikmall location at East Colfax Avenue and Galena Street in order to expand its capacity. The school proposed the move to APS, but Superintendent Rico Munn denied the request on Jan. 23, saying the site is about 300 feet away from a Starbuds marijuana dispensary.

Kate Mullins, executive director of Vega, said the school appealed to Munn, but was again rejected on Feb. 5. That prompted the school to appeal the decision to the Colorado State Board of Education. It also brought out a large contingent of parents and students to protest the decision by Munn during the APS School Board’s Feb. 6 meeting.

“Our hope was that we would be able to change the Superintendent’s mind, that yes there’s a dispensary (close by) but this is our community that we’re serving,” Mullins said. “We think this is an unreasonable denial of this space.”

Mullins said the school, which opened up in 2017, needs to find a new location to allow it to expand. Currently the school serves kindergarten and fifth grade students with plans to expand to first grade and sixth grade in the 2018-2019 school year, second and seventh grades in 2019-2020 and third and eighth grades by 2020-2021. Currently the school serves about 100 students but by the time it is fully expanded, Mullins said the goal is to serve more than 500 students total.

Mullins said the proposed location is in the community the school aims to serve and would provide students with far more opportunities for activities including things like yoga.

“One of our families lives right across the street from the (locations),” Mullins said. “We have so many families that are excited about this space.”

APS has filed a request with the state board of education to reject Vega’s appeal. A spokesman for APS said that since the decision was being appealed to the state board of education, it would be inappropriate for the district to comment on the case at this time.

The plan received unanimous approval from Aurora’s planning commission, and the school has invested in traffic studies, Mullins said. In his second letter of rejection on Feb. 5, Munn stated that after discussing the matter with city officials, studying crime data for the area and the theoretical connection between crime increases near dispensaries, and the Claire Davis Act, “I have not found anything to make me change my original denial.”

The Claire Davis Act, named for the student killed in a shooting at Arapahoe High School in 2013, imposes a limited waiver of sovereign immunity for schools “if a school fails to exercise reasonable care to protect all students, faculty and staff from reasonably foreseeable acts of violence that occurs at school or a school-sponsored activity.”

The state board of education is set to decide on Feb. 15 on whether to hear Vega’s appeal or to reject it outright.

DSST ‘STEM” school landing at Anschutz

Aurora Public Schools announced it has found a home on the Fitzsimons Innovation Campus for the charter school it will open up in 2019 in partnership with the Denver School of Science and Technology.

The new charter’s close proximity to the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus will facilitate interactions between DSST and the university without dealing with issues like transportation or other hindrances, said APS Superintendent Rico Munn.

Aurora Central High School and Hinkley High School already have existing relationships with CU Anschutz and Munn said both APS and DSST have been in talks with the university to expand that relationship with the new charter school.

“Having an APS building on campus will also allow us to bring in students from around the district to this facility,” Munn said. “We have this great relationship there already and this will allow our students to walk over (for programs).”

While the location has been found, the cost of building the campus is still unknown. APS spokesman Corey Christiansen said fundraising efforts are underway in partnership with DSST, which will determine the final cost of the building. According to the contract between APS and DSST, APS students in the area surrounding the campus would have first priority for admissions, with students from APS having the next priority. Last would be students from outside of the district.

The DSST charter school was approved by the previous incarnation of the APS School Board on a 5-2 vote on one of its last decision before the new progressive majority was sworn in. The school is set to start in 2019 with a middle school serving 150 sixth graders and expand the grade selection and school size by a grade each school year. A high school on the same campus would then open during the 2022-2023 school year. The final student total for one campus by the eighth year would be 975 students.

A second campus following the same expansion model as the first campus is proposed for an as yet undetermined area of Aurora in 2021.

This story has been corrected to accurately reflect APS’s position on Vega’s relocation.