Legal Battle Mounted Against Woodland Park School Board Reaches Final Conclusion

Door Closes on District Critics and Recall Group Leaders

Trevor Phipps

The battle between a staunch group of local residents, including some high profile community members, and the Woodland Park RE-2 School District Board of Education may have officially screeched to a halt, with  final court rulings rendered.

A district court judge granted the board’s motion to make a summary judgment regarding a lawsuit filed against the board.

During the last year, sparks ignited when a new school board was elected. The new board followed through with many of their campaign promises including to add Merit Academy as a charter school.

But as soon as the board started their work to add the charter school and make some other changes, they were instantly met with opposition from many members of the community. A group of the community members opposing the new school board then retained a lawyer and filed a lawsuit against the board.

During the first court showdown, the group won a preliminary victory, with the judge concluding that the school board needed to better follow open meetings law. The next step by the board critics involved a major campaign to recall three of the new elected members.

Even though the recall petition gained more than 2,000 signatures for each of the targeted members,  in the end this was not enough. Due to a few hundred signatures getting thrown out by the county clerk’s office, the recall effort was unsuccessful and the makeup of the school board did not change.

The group then filed a motion in court saying that the board had violated the open meetings law once again during a meeting last spring. The judge this time though, denied the motion and said that the board did not violate any laws.

Last week, the Woodland Park School District Board of Education announced that on October 7, Teller County District Court Judge Scott Sells granted the board’s motion for summary judgment in the case filed by Erin O’Connell. This may end the legal squabble.

Specifically, the court found that the board’s meeting of April 13th cured any previous violation of the Colorado Open Meetings Law as related to Merit Academy.

The Court additionally denied O’Connell’s request for her costs and attorneys’ fees in bringing the action and her request to essentially close a district charter school chosen by hundreds of students and families in Woodland Park.

The court’s order effectively brings a conclusion to a nearly year-long effort to use the open meetings law against the board and its efforts to improve the quality of education in Woodland Park.

“I’m grateful for the time and thoughtful legal analysis that Judge Sells applied to this case,” Board Vice President David Illingworth said. “In the end, the court found that any previous mistake made by the Board had been corrected, and no other issues remained for the court to resolve. My thanks to our attorney Bryce Carlson, and to the entire team at Miller Farmer Law, for defending WPSD from a political suit that sought to close our new charter school and disenfranchise the hundreds of students enrolled there.”

Board President David Rusterholtz also said that he was happy with the court’s recent decision. “I would like to thank the vast majority of Teller County residents who have unwaveringly supported us through this difficult time,” Rusterholtz said. “I ask those who have opposed this Board of Education‘s hard work to peacefully join us in working together to make Woodland Park School District the top school for public education in Colorado.”