Class Wars

Northeast Denver's schools are running out of room.

"She lost $4,000 because she was given erroneous information," Sweed says. "We have followed the process the school district has identified for parents who have concerns. We feel if we were Anglo or in a more affluent area, our concerns would be addressed. These are basic concerns -- to have dedicated people at our schools. I resent when I read in the paper that kids are getting low test scores because they come from low-income communities where their parents aren't involved. When parents try to get involved, they are encumbered, discounted and discredited. We've had to fight with people from the school district to have meetings that affect our community in our community and to hold them in the evenings so that working parents can attend. The administrators say they want parent involvement, but they don't."

Sweed is hoping that a federal civil-rights complaint will encourage the district to respond. The advisory board of the Denver Educational Excellence Program -- which was created to help students at Montbello High prepare for college and earn scholarships -- filed a complaint last week with the U.S. Department of Education's office of civil rights. Sweed says the program had been helping kids for eight years until its administrator was fired last April for reasons that were never fully explained to the advisory board. Since then, she says kids have missed out on opportunities to get college scholarships. The education department has agreed to investigate, she adds.

"I think they have some legitimate concerns," says school-board president Elaine Berman, "and from my perspective, I'm pleased that they're organizing and banding together to try to improve schools in northeast Denver."

Even though Frilot supports the effort to recall Milliner, he says the parents in Montbello are as much to blame for poor-quality schools as the board. He wants the Northern Corridor Coalition to attract more members -- the group held a rally at Montbello High on April 1 to drum up community support -- and then he wants the members to come up with a plan to require parent participation in schools.

"The problems in our schools are bigger than any one teacher or administrator," he says. "Our school-board representatives have always been lax, but we can't entirely blame Bennie -- he hasn't been at the root of the problem as long as we have. We haven't approached him in the right way because we've never been in a crisis state of mind. But our schools are in crisis."

Frilot and his wife don't have children in DPS, but they've already decided that if the schools in northeast Denver don't improve by the time their baby daughter is old enough to attend, they'll send her to school across town.

And when Doane's daughter attends middle school next year, she'll either go to Place, Hamilton or the Denver School of the Arts, a specialty school. "I won't subject my children to overcrowded schools and inferior teaching," he says. "No school in the Montbello region will see our children until things change."

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