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  Volume No. 17 Issue No. 2 February 2020  

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    Students cater to seniors
    More on charter school waivers
    Cherokee upgrades wastewater treatment plant
    Building and real estate update
    Sheriff expanding mental health unit
 
  Students cater to seniors
  By Pete Gawda

   About 50 senior citizens gathered in the gymnasium at Patriot High School on Jan. 8 for fun, food and fellowship. Culinary students host Falcon Senior Services every month, and provide the main dish; members bring side dishes and desserts.
   
   Jahna Badger, chairman of the organization's board of directors, said the goal is “just to meet; and fellowship.” At the luncheon, the seniors have an option to participate in a book exchange with other members.
   
   In the past, the organization sponsored bake sales, craft fairs and other activities to raise money for a proposed senior center. After plans for the center proved to be too expensive, most of those fundraisers ceased to exist. Today, the car show is the only annual fundraiser the group organizes.
   
   The membership is between 50 and 60 seniors. While numbers have been declining, at the January luncheon they gained six new members.
   
   Monthly luncheons are planned for 10 months out of the year at the school. In June, the members have a picnic. There is no meeting in the month of July. In November, the culinary students provide a complete Thanksgiving dinner at no cost.
   
   Falcon Senior Services owns a small bus. Over lunch in January, they discussed a February bus trip to Cripple Creek. Badger said they are planning future bus trips as well. The bus is also available to take seniors age 60 and over and legally handicapped persons regardless of age to medical appointments on Tuesdays and Fridays.
   
   Strength and flexibility classes are offered free of charge on Mondays and Fridays at Grace Community Church — 9475 Grace Church View. After the exercise session, the group has lunch at different restaurants.
   
   Members must be 50 years or older. The annual dues are $10. Members pay $3 for lunch and guests pay $5. All seniors are invited to join the group on the third Wednesday of each month at 11 a.m. for good food, congenial company and fun activities. Patriot High School’s address is 11990 Swingline Road.
  
About 50 senior citizens gathered Jan. 8 at Patriot High School for the Falcon Senior Services’ monthly luncheon. Culinary students provide the main dish each month. Photo by Pete Gawda
 
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  More on charter school waivers
  By Lindsey Harrison

   In November 2019, “The New Falcon Herald” began a multi-part series on charter schools, describing how they differ from traditional schools. According to the Colorado Department of Education, there are 264 charter schools operating in Colorado during the 2019-2020 school year. Charter schools are public schools that operate in accordance to a contract or charter, along with an authorizer.
   
   Last month, the NFH focused on charter school waivers. Bill Kottenstette, executive director of the school of choice unit at the Colorado Department of Education, said charter schools can request waivers from the CDE for a provision of education law so it does not apply to that school.
   
   This month, the NFH is focusing specifically on waivers for dress codes and teacher accreditation –- two waivers that have sparked controversy in the past.
   
   First, there is one area where waivers are not allowed — separation of church and state. Andy Franko, iConnect Zone leader with El Paso County Colorado School District 49, said although charter schools and traditional public schools with innovation status can waive out of some state requirements, they cannot waive any federal laws, including the law separating church and state.
   
   "Under the Charter School Act, they cannot waive out of any federal law," Franco said. "Charter schools and traditional schools can teach the educational purposes of a religion, but they are not a parochial school so they cannot teach to a specific religion or faith."
   
   Dress code
   Kottenstette said dress code waivers are not handled at the state level; they need to be addressed by the district, in case there was a policy already in place that the charter school wanted to opt out of. “It would not be uncommon for a charter school to have its own dress code and enforcement through its code of conduct,” he said.
   
   Franko agreed and said often charter schools have a uniform policy that requires students to dress more conservatively, which can include a ban on certain things like hair dyed in an unnatural color or a restriction on how many ear piercings a student can have.
   
   According to an article posted on The Gazette’s website Dec. 17, 2019, a kindergarten student at the Rocky Mountain Classical Academy in D 49 was suspended twice in one week for “willfully disobeying the school’s rules by wearing earrings to school.”
   
   The school’s dress code allows female students to wear earrings but not males. The boy’s mother has filed a lawsuit in U.S. District Federal Court claiming her son had been discriminated against based on his gender.
   
   “People might consider that to be gender discrimination; and, if the charter made a policy that was illegal or discriminatory, it would be our place to step in as the authorizer,” Franko said. “However, the school is allowed to create a policy that applies to one sex and not the other.”
   
   Parents and students have to agree to abide by the rules in the student handbook, which is distributed by each school at the beginning of every school year, Franko said. By choosing to attend a certain school, both the parents and the students agree to follow the code of conduct in the student handbook, he said.
   
   “The parent has to decide to comply or not,” Franko said. “But what if the parent decides not to comply and sends the student in violation every day? The school has to determine how to respond. The parent said they wanted the rule and now they are saying they do not. The school can end up looking like the bad guy but the other side is the parents agreed to that policy and if they do not, they do not have to go to that school.”
   
   While the fight might be worth it for some schools, Franko said others might choose to change their policy instead. Ultimately, he said authorizers encourage charter schools to create policies they can enforce, as opposed to those impossible to enforce.
   
   “If they are getting into that realm, we ask them to consider whether the policy is worth it,” Franko said. Sometimes the school backs down and opts to consider changing it, but often the policy remains because it was put in place by the charter school’s founding families and approved by their board of directors, he said.
   
   RMCA has had the same dress code policy since its inception 14 years ago; so far, the lawsuit has not been resolved, Franko said.
   
   “Should that parent choose to take her student to another school, there would be a seat for him there so that is an option,” he said.
   
   Teacher licensure
   Kottenstette said a waiver from teacher licensure is not an uncommon request for a charter school to make, but that does not mean the school does not intend to hire licensed teachers, which is often the perception.
   
   “The waiver gives the school the flexibility to hire licensed or unlicensed teachers,” he said. “Why they choose to ask for that waiver can vary. Sometimes they are looking for a teacher with particular content knowledge, like someone with an advanced math degree but no teacher’s license.”
   
   With the admitted shortage of teachers across the nation, Kottenstette said more charter schools are opting for this waiver because it expands the potential pool of candidates who can be considered for a position.
   
   Franko said schools or districts with innovation status have also begun to request this waiver but that comes with some caveats. The teacher does not need to have a license from the state’s education department but under the current legislation, teachers must have “in-field” qualifications or be working toward it.
   
   “That in-field status requires teachers to either have their teaching license or 36 credit hours in the field of what they would be teaching,” he said. “That means they have to have their bachelor’s degree in that field or pass a placement test.”
   
   D 49 as a district has innovation status but it is their policy not to hire more than 10 percent of teachers at any one time without licensure and they must obtain their “in-field” status within one year of being hired, Franko said.
   
   Charter schools often have a specific education niche, whether it is a classical education model; a science, technology, engineering and math model; or an arts model, he said. The licensure waiver allows those schools to hire industry experts versus hiring a general educator, Franko said.
   
   “All of the D 49 charter schools have a waiver to hire teachers without licensure but all the schools have a majority of the teachers in their schools with a license,” he said.
  
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  Cherokee upgrades wastewater treatment plant
  By Pete Gawda

   The 10-year-long disagreement between the Colorado Department of Health and Environment and Cherokee Metropolitan District over Cherokee's wastewater treatment plant could finally be settled, with a plant upgrade.
   
   The problem has been the total dissolved solids. TDS are mostly salts found naturally occurring in ground and surface water and also added through household and commercial uses. In 2008, when the plant was designed, the state imposed no limit on TDS in treated wastewater discharged into groundwater.
   
   The Cherokee wastewater treatment plant was “built exactly as designed and permitted by the state,” said Amy Lathen, general manager of Cherokee. Lathen was responding to the claim by Meridian Metropolitan Service District that the current non-compliance of the plant was caused by design and construction defects that Cherokee caused or allowed to happen.
   
   “We have met every order for compliance,” Lathen said.
   
   In March 2010, the state issued a draft discharge permit for the plant that for the first time included a limit for TDS of 400 parts-per-million discharged into groundwater. In April 2010, Cherokee requested a revision to the TDS limit. The request was denied and a final discharge permit of 400 parts-per-million became effective June 12, 2010. Because the plant became operational about that time, Cherokee officials felt they had no choice but to begin receiving wastewater flows as designed and contracted. Since that time, Cherokee officials have unsuccessfully tried several times for a variance on the 400 parts-per-million.
   
   The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that TDS in drinking water are not health threatening. However, according to the EPA, a TDS level of 500 could cause water to appear cloudy or colored or smell or taste bad.
   
   According to the World Health Organization, a TDS level of less than 300 is excellent. A TDS level of between 300 and 600 is good, between 600 and 900 is fair, between 900 and 1200 is poor and over 1200 is unacceptable.
   
   Lathen said the Cherokee plant averages 550 parts-per-million for TDS.
   
   It is Cherokee's position that since the plant became operational in mid 2010, it has functioned as originally designed and permitted. Between 2010 and 2014, Cherokee engaged in investigative and legal actions related to the construction of the rapid infiltration (discharge) basins, but those construction issues were unrelated to the state’s imposition of TDS standards.
   
   After extensive negotiations, on May 14, 2014, the state issued a Compliance Order on Consent that required actions and timelines leading to compliance of all permit restrictions.
   
   In March 2017, Cherokee began moving forward with plans to upgrade the plant with a reverse osmosis treatment system. This is a high-density membrane filtration system designed to remove TDS from the treated wastewater before being discharged into groundwater. In February 2019, Cherokee submitted preliminary designs as required by the compliance order timeline, which were subsequently approved by the state.
   
   In August 2019, the Cherokee board of directors approved a design-build engineering firm for final design of the upgrade to reverse osmosis. Construction is scheduled to begin this year, with completion scheduled for 2022. Throughout this entire process, Cherokee officials have stated they have remained on schedule with all mandated requirements.
   
   To pay the estimated $40 million to upgrade the system to come into compliance with TDS limitations, Cherokee has instituted a surcharge of $5.07 per month, separate from water and wastewater rates, on all residential users of the system. At the present time, users in Meridian Ranch do not pay this surcharge because of ongoing arbitration. That surcharge will be used exclusively for costs relating to the plant upgrade and meeting TDS limitations.
   
   Editor's note: In the preparation of last month's article on wastewater treatment, through communication errors, The New Falcon Herald was not able to contact Cherokee officials. We acted in good faith to contact someone from Cherokee. The telephone messages that were left apparently did not get to the right person, and we had an incorrect email address. Since that time, The New Falcon Herald has been in contact with Amy Lathen, general manager, who has been cooperative and transparent in answering questions. She has also furnished written documentation.
  
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  Building and real estate update
  By Lindsey Harrison

   Falcon Park N Ride project
   The El Paso County Board of County Commissioners unanimously approved a resolution to recognize $3,142,661 in federal funding for the road and bridge 2020 budget and the Falcon Park N Ride project. The project budget also includes $653,281 in a local funding match, bringing the total project budget to $3,795,942. The Park N Ride is located near the intersection of Old Meridian Road and Highway 24. The project includes construction of the Park N Ride facility, extension of New Meridian Road from Highway 24 to Falcon Highway and improvements to the intersections of Old Meridian and New Meridian roads where they meet with Highway 24.
   
   McLaughlin/Old Meridian Road Roundabout project
   The BOCC unanimously approved a construction contract and purchase order to Kiewit Infrastructure Co. for construction of the McLaughlin and Old Meridian Road Roundabout for $5,261,980. The project includes reconstructing New Meridian Road from Highway 24 up to and including the Rolling Thunder intersection, constructing a new single-lane roundabout at the McLaughlin Road/Old Meridian Road intersection, upgrading the Old Meridian Road cross-section toward Highway 24, constructing pedestrian facilities and providing drainage improvements.
   
   Woodmen Hills subdivision
   The commissioners unanimously approved the full release of a letter of credit for grading and erosion control in the Courtyards at Woodmen Hills subdivision for $1,585,021.70. This letter of credit was for the preliminary plan and is being replaced with a letter of credit for the project’s final plat.
   
   Briargate Parkway/Stapleton Road Corridor project
   The BOCC unanimously approved a purchase order to Wilson & Company to provide traffic engineering and transportation planning services for the Briargate Parkway/Stapleton Road Corridor project for $409,080. The project is part of a larger transportation corridor system providing connectivity with Interstate 25 to the north and south by creating an east-west corridor from Black Forest Road to Meridian Road. The available funding is only for the planning and design phases of the project.
   
   Walden Preserve subdivision
   The EPC Planning Commission unanimously approved a request by Walden Holding I LLC for the final plat for the Walden Preserve 2 Filing No. 4 subdivision. The final plat includes 23 single-family lots with a minimum lot size of 1 acre; 18.16 acres for utilities, drainage and recreation; and 3 acres of rights-of-way. The total acreage of the parcel is 134.05-acre, zoned planned unit development, and is located east of Highway 83, south of Walker Road, north of Hodgen Road and north of the Pond View Place and Walden Way/Timber Meadow Drive intersection. It is included within the boundaries of the Black Forest Preservation Plan.
   
   Walker Reserve subdivision
   The PC unanimously approved a request by Alessi and Associates, on behalf of G3 Investments Inc., for a minor subdivision to create three lots, measuring 5.10 acres, 5.12 acres and 28.52 acres, on a 40.77 acre parcel zoned residential rural-5. The remaining 1.81 acres will be dedicated as rights-of-way. The property is located about 1 mile east of Highway 83, .25 miles north of Walker Road and is included within the boundaries of the Black Forest Preservation Plan.
  
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  Sheriff expanding mental health unit
  By Lindsey Harrison

   In January, the El Paso County Sheriff’s Office announced the expansion of its mental health unit, beginning in mid-February. Jacqueline Kirby, media relations manager for the EPCSO, said the expansion will more than double the number of people working in the Behavioral Health Connect unit.
   
   The BHCON was launched on July 1, 2018, and pairs an EPCSO deputy with a licensed behavioral health clinician from UCHealth’s Memorial Hospital.
   
   Robin Schawe is the clinician working on the original BHCON team. “The sheriff’s office cares very much about mental health and we are trying our best to provide the best care for the community; and, by adding a second team, we want to reach more community members,” Schawe said.
   
   Kirby said prior to the expansion, the BHCON unit only had one deputy and one clinician working as a team. Not only does the expansion include another deputy and clinician team but also the unit now has a designated case manager to follow up on each call for service, she said.
   
   Carey Boelter, program manager for the BHCON unit, said the EPCSO receives between 200 and 300 mental health-related calls for service each month, and a single BHCON team can make it to about 50 to 70 of those calls.
   
   “Two teams is not even enough, but we have the funds to put a second team out right now,” Boelter said. “Our team has seen a rise in calls partly because of a lack of sustainable resources in the eastern part of the county.”
   
   The BHCON unit is funded by a grant through the Colorado Department of Human Services, which is set to expire June 30, 2022, but the EPCSO is always looking for other partners and additional grant funding, she said.
  
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