COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4)- Two days after CBS4 reported a Commerce City charter school was refusing to discuss how much it paid to settle a First Amendment lawsuit, Victory Preparatory Academy revealed on Friday that it paid plaintiffs in the 2018 case $425,000. Parents and students sued the school over a 2017 incident when students refused to recite the school pledge at a morning assembly.
Some students said they were expelled or pressured to withdraw after they posted negative comments on social media sites critical of the school and its CEO, Ron Jajdelski. Two parents of a Victory Prep student said they were banned from campus after reporting on the student protest.
All that led to the filing of a federal lawsuit with students and parents claiming the school violated their First Amendment rights. The court action was settled in December 2019 and the lawsuit dismissed. The plaintiffs and their attorneys said they could not comment on last month's settlement. The public school rebuffed requests for details on the settlement and how much was paid saying a federal privacy law shielded them from releasing details.
But Friday afternoon, Kristen Maurer McCarthy, an attorney for the school, emailed CBS4 detailing the settlement amount paid to the students and parents.
"There were two checks issued in the matter," wrote McCarthy. "One check issued for $385,333.05 and a second check for $39,666.95."
She said both checks were issued to the law firm that represented the parents and students. McCarthy did not provide any further information.
The school says 93% of its students are Latino or Hispanic and 86% qualify for free or reduced lunch.
The attorney for the students and parents told CBS4's Brian Maass:
"To our knowledge, this is the largest settlement in Colorado state history regarding the free speech and due process rights of students in the educational context.
This settlement should send a loud message to schools across the state that students do not abandon their constitutional rights at school doors.
There will be a hefty price to pay for schools that fail to respect the constitutional rights of students and their parents.
This settlement shows that schools that attempt to silence dissent will pay a stiff price.
We are proud of the students and parents who brought this lawsuit to court. These students are helping protect the rights of students across the county, which will only strengthen our communities and reaffirm the resiliency of the democratic principles our society was founded on."
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