Saturday, November 17, 2018

CO: Charter Battles First Amendment

It's a reminder, again, that some charter operators feel certain they don't have to play by the same rules as the rest of the country.

Victory Preparatory Academy in Commerce City, Colorado, is getting hauled into court over an alleged violation of First Amendment rights.

VPA (6-12) and Community Leadership Academy (PK-5) are run by CEO Ron Jajdelski, a man who leaves a pretty tiny internet footprint. His LinkedIn account lists only his current job. But the sixty-ish CEO does turn up in a few spots. He appears to have attended Saybrook University's School of Organizational Leadership and Transformation.  He apparently holds a patent for "an ornamental design for a media storage device."

According to the school website, Jajdelski was involved from day one:

The school was conceived in March 2003, when several community members met to discuss education reform in Adams County School District 14. The discussion was facilitated by Ron Jajdelski, Executive Director at Commerce City Community Enterprise, a local grassroots non-profit focusing on empowering citizens to lead local change. These visionaries continued to meet and develop the school’s mission, programming and culture.

His school has had issues before. In 2015, there was a flap that began with a parent believed her sixth grade daughter was being bullied. She called Jajdelski and ended up feeling bullied herself, wiuth Jajdelski suggesting that he daughter should just change schools. A video of the exchange went viral-ish, and Jajdelski ended up explaining to news media that his tone was based on his belief that the parent was trying to bully him.

That was perhaps not the most professional exchange, and it's not a one-off. Other parents reportedly had similar experiences. And then there's VPA somewhat aggressive marketing approach. In 2016, Jajdelski and his wife Tina, who is also an administrator for the charter, put on the school's electronic billboard, "Don't risk your child's future to failing Adams 14 schools." When questioned about it, Jajdelski said the message would stay up "despite if it bothers some people."

The current set of issues take us back to September of 2017:

During a school assembly Sept. 28, 2017, the students stood to recite the Pledge of Allegiance, but, when it came time to recite the school’s own pledge — “I … accept the VPA challenge to be a noble knight, and I pledge to do my best for myself, my family, my school and my community” — many of them refused to stand as a form of silent protest, according to the lawsuit.

The students said they were protesting "a lack of school spirit and a lack of opportunity."

"We are only focused on our grades and testing, and we want to have experiences like other schools down the street," Pineda told Denver7's Connor Wist.

Students were sent back to class, the recalled to the auditorium so that Jajdelski could grill them about the protest. The students presented him with a letter about their protest (the letter was previously posted on Scribd but has since been taken down) and Jajdelski did not handle this well.

He threw all 120 students out of school and called the police.

Mary and Joel Flores arrived to pick up their son and were met by police, who tried to calm the crowd and tried to buy Jajdelski some time. But then he escalated to saying that if they didn't take their son and leave school grounds, "Jajdelski would press charges and everyone would be arrested." The parents wanted an explanation, but that wasn't going to happen, and the police indicated they could not protest on school property. There is, of course, video.

The Flores own a Spanish-language newspaper, and they reported the story on the front page. Within a week, the school sent them a letter informing them that because of their reporting, they were banned from school property. The school charged them with detaining, filming and photographing students, and "You also intentionally chose to create a false narrative with students, the public and the media regarding VPA student activities and school administration decisions."

So, there are many layers here. First, schools may not legally require students to stand and recite the pledge to the US flag, let alone somebody's made up pledge to their school. Second, journalists can't be banned just because they say things you don't like. And third, anybody who had five minutes of formal How To Be A School Administrator would know both of those things. But the Jajdelskis appear to be just one more example of what happens when you let amateurs play school.

Yes, there are some unanswered questions in the record at the moment.Why did the Flores wait a full year to file their suit? And, yes, it's entirely possible that the Flores are one of Those Types of Parents-- the ones who are an enormous PITA to their child's school.

However, there are no possible answers to any of those questions that make Jajdelski's actions Not Wrong. Once again, we have charter operators acting as if the school is their own private kingdom, not subject to any of the rules observed by every public school in the country. We'll see how this turns out.


  1. He's just emulating the president who is, after all, a stable genius. The thing about stable geniuses is that you have to keep cleaning up the horse**** they leave in the stall.

  2. Let's not forget that most of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights was written to protect us from our elected government and not from an autocratic, never-elected bully of a CEO that runs a publicly funded but private sector charter school. Public schools have elected school boards that answer to the parents and voters in a public school district. Publicly funded, private sector charters do not have elected school boards and do not have to answer to parents and since voters have no say in how charter schools are operated, they have no voice at all unless they vote to get rid of all elected officials that support publicly funded, private sector charter schools that pass laws and legislation that bans all publicly funded, private sector charter schools from existing..