COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4)- Victory Preparatory Academy, a public charter school in Commerce City, has paid out hundreds of thousands of dollars to settle a First Amendment lawsuit filed by parents and students. The school is refusing to reveal precisely how much it paid, who received what amount, or any other details of the settlement, citing FERPA, a federal law that protects student academic records.
Multiple sources familiar with the settlement told CBS4 the school agreed to pay out nearly $500,000 to settle the case.
It stems from an incident at the school in 2017 when many students refused to recite the school pledge at a morning assembly. The school CEO, Ron Jajdelski, ultimately sent about 120 students home for the day. When some students later made derogatory comments about the school and Jajdelski on social media sites, or shared negative comments, they said they were expelled from the school or pressured to withdraw.
Two parents of a Victory Prep student say they were banned from the campus after reporting on the events in their Spanish language newspaper.
In their federal lawsuit, the students and parents claimed their first amendment rights were violated, and they were retaliated against for expressing their views.
Court records show the students, parents and the school reached an agreement in mid- December, and the lawsuit was dropped.
But when CBS4 filed a Colorado Open Records Act request with the school seeking the settlement amount, Victory Prep’s attorneys said they would not comply with the request.
Kristen Maurer McCarthy, an attorney for the school, wrote, “The settlement agreement requested contains partially confidential content. The confidential portions contain information covered under the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA).”
She said the school “is not required by law to alter any portion of the agreement before its disclosure…Therefore (the school) denies your request.”
FERPA was enacted by Congress to protect the privacy of students and their parents. The law prohibits disclosure of a student’s “protected information” to a third party. FERPA’s aim is to protect the privacy of student education records.
Matthew Cron, an attorney representing the students and parents, said he could not discuss the settlement.
”Due to our settlement agreement, we are unable to comment on the matter,” said Cron.
Joel Flores, one of the parents who sued the school, told CBS4 he could not comment on the settlement either, but said the lawsuit showed, ”They (Victory Prep) don’t follow the rules.”
Flores said the school’s refusal to let the public know how much money was spent in the settlement shows “they’re protecting themselves.”
Jajdelski did not respond to a message from CBS4.