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Parents, Students File First Amendment Lawsuit Against Charter School

By Brian Maass

COMMERCE CITY, Colo. (CBS4)- Some parents and former students of Victory Preparatory Academy in Commerce City filed a federal lawsuit Tuesday afternoon, claiming the charter school violated their first amendment rights to free speech.

According to the federal class action complaint obtained by CBS4, some students say they were disciplined for posting critical comments about the school CEO on Facebook, and others say they were disciplined for "liking" or commenting on those social media posts.

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"Kids have Constitutional rights in our school system and they don't abandon those rights when they walk through the school doors in the morning," said Matt Cron, an attorney representing parents and former students at the charter school.

Multiple calls to the school's principal and CEO, Ron Jajdelski, were not returned to CBS4.

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The lawsuit stems from events at the school Sept. 28, 2017 when students refused to recite the schools pledge during an assembly at the start of the day and presented a list of grievances to school administrators. All 120 high school students were subsequently told to go home for the rest of the day.

Joel and Mary Flores, who own and publish a Spanish language newspaper, came to the school to pick up their son, who was a junior. When they saw students walking out, they began interviewing and photographing students for an article that would appear in their newspaper, La Prensa de Colorado, two days later.

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Joel and Mary Flores (credit: CBS)

On October 6, a week after the article came out, the school wrote the Flores' saying "You chose to detain, film, and photograph Victory Preparatory Academy students without school and parent permission. This activity is not only illegal, it is a violation of school policy and your family's agreement regarding conduct on school grounds. Your actions created an unsafe situation and required police intervention. You also chose to intentionally create a false narrative with students, the public and the media regarding VPA student activities and school administration decisions."

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The letter goes on to state, "School administrators were literally ten feet away, you made no effort to clarify any aspect of the activities and actions of the school leaders, nor have you to date."

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The Flores were told they were no longer permitted on school property until a review of what happened was completed and processed. Some 13 months later, they say they are still banned from campus and have not been able to participate in parent-teacher conferences or watch their son's soccer games. They fear the ban will prevent them from attending their son's graduation.

Asked if he felt the ban was because the school didn't like their reporting, Joel Flores said, "They didn't. It brought bad press to them."

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He says they stand by their reporting and have no regrets about how they reported on the incident.

They believe the ban is retaliation for exercising their First Amendment rights.

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"Change might be too late for my son but maybe for students after him," said Flores.

Matt Cron, the attorney filing the lawsuit, told CBS4, "This case is about serial violations of the First amendment. This school has trampled on the constitutional rights of students, parents and the entire community."

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He says a number of students were either expelled or suspended from the school for posting negative comments about the school CEO on Facebook or liking, sharing or commenting on the Facebook posts critical of Jajdelski. Cron said other students who participated in interviews with local media were also suspended or expelled.

CBS4 Investigator Brian Maass has been with the station more than 30 years uncovering waste, fraud and corruption. Follow him on Twitter @Briancbs4.

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