The turmoil continues at the Ricardo Flores Magon Academy charter school in Westminster, the subject of our recent cover story, "A Hard Line." Facing two lawsuits and many more complaints, the school has now (at least temporarily) lost its leader, about whom many of the complaints were made. While principal Marcos Martinez remains on paid leave, the school has hired a security guard.
According to Virginia Longoria, the chairwoman of the school's board of trustees, and Jerome DeHerrera, the school's attorney, the security guard was retained "because of security concerns expressed to us by teachers, staff and parents." In an e-mail to Westword, Longoria and DeHerrera wrote that "the board is not willing to take any chances with regard to the safety of the school's children, teachers, staff and parents."
According to the Adams County Sheriff's Office, officers were called to two heated meetings at the school, on February 3 and February 8. Both were to discuss complaints against principal Martinez, chess teacher Dominic Martinez and Gabriela Guzman, the school's director of curriculum and instruction. However, no one was arrested.
The three remain on leave while the board investigates the complaints, which members have failed to publicly articulate. Here's how they described the situation in a letter sent home to parents this week and provided to Westword by DeHerrera.
Dear RFMA Community,
As you know, the Board of Trustees of RFMA ("Board") is responsible for ensuring that RFMA is being operated according to its mission and in compliance with all applicable legal requirements. In conjunction with the resignation of two RFMA teachers on February 1, the Board became aware of practices at the school that may violate the mission of RFMA and applicable law. As a result, the Board immediately notified local officials of the allegations as required by law and decided to initiate the process of investigating the alleged practices. Further, because of their respective positions, the Board asked Marcos Martinez (Head of School), Gabriela Guzman (Director of Curriculum), and Dominic Martinez (Director of the Chess Program) to take voluntary leaves of absence, with pay, until the investigation is completed.
As part of the process, the Board held meetings on February 3 and 7, in which it received input from parents, employees, and members of the community. If you have information regarding the practices and/or operations of RFMA that you believe should be brought to the Board's attention, please do not hesitate to contact either of us or the school's Compliance Officer/Legal Counsel, Jerome DeHerrera. [Editor's note: Westword has deleted all contact information for the purposes of this blog post.]
The Board hopes to complete its investigation as soon as possible. We hope that you understand that because this is a personnel matter, the Board is not at liberty to disclose the details regarding the focus of the investigation. In the meantime, please trust that the Board is doing everything it can to provide the students at RFMA with a safe and nurturing environment as well as an excellent education that will prepare them for success in college and beyond.
During this period, the Board has named Marcelino Casias as the Interim-Head of School. In addition, a temporary, substitute teacher has been added to the staff and the school is in the process of adding another temporary, substitute teacher and a temporary, substitute chess teacher. Please also note that the school has retained a security guard.
Until he was named interim principal, Casias was the school's director of fundraising, Longoria and DeHerrera say. They would not comment further on the resignation of the two teachers on February 1 or how their departure coincided with the ensuing investigation, except to say that "each one has their own personal reasons for resigning from the school."
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The school's charter is set to expire on June 30, and it has applied for renewal from two authorizing agencies: the Charter School Institute, which authorized its current charter, and Adams County School District 50, in which the school is physically located.
The institute was scheduled to vote on whether to renew the school's charter on February 21, but executive director Ethan Hemming reports that the date has now been pushed back to March 20 to give Adams 50 more time to make its decision. Adams 50 officials have not returned calls from Westword seeking comment.
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