The Ascent Clas­sical Academy Flatirons, a pro­posed charter school in the Boulder, Col­orado area, was denied its charter appli­cation to open this fall. The school is part­nered with Hillsdale’s Barney Charter School Ini­tiative. Pexels

A pro­posed clas­sical charter school in Col­orado, part of Hillsdale College’s Barney Charter School Ini­tiative, has been denied a charter appli­cation by the Boulder Valley Board of Edu­cation, based on con­cerns regarding school gov­er­nance and reli­gious dis­crim­i­nation.

The Ascent Clas­sical Academy Flatirons, according to its website, is “a pro­posed K-12 tuition-free charter public school,” and would be the next school to open as part of Ascent Clas­sical Acad­emies, a network of charter schools.

The ACA lead­ership first sub­mitted an appli­cation in August 2018 to open Flatirons this coming fall, said Derec Schuler, CEO of ACA, and 650 fam­ilies intended to enroll. But because the local school board denied the appli­cation, according to Schuler, ACA appealed the Col­orado State Board of Edu­cation, which then instructed the Boulder Valley school board to recon­sider the appli­cation.

After reviewing the appli­cation per the state board’s instruc­tions, the local school board denied the appli­cation again, Schuler said, rejecting ACA’s gov­er­nance model for the school and sug­gesting the school could have problems with dis­crim­i­nation.

“The super­in­tendent of the local school dis­trict ini­tially rec­om­mended our school,” Schuler said. “We felt pos­itive coming into the meeting where we were to be approved. But at that meeting, the super­in­tendent reversed his rec­om­men­dation. It was a sur­prise to all of our fam­ilies.”

The charter was denied in a 3 – 3 vote; in addition, Board Member Val Flores recused herself. In a statement on Boulder Valley School District’s website, the board expressed concern that the school’s gov­er­nance structure may not serve parents or let them have “suf­fi­cient influence.” The statement also said ACA lead­ership rejected Super­in­tendent Rob Anderson’s “pro­posed con­dition for a parent-elected board to govern” the new charter school.

“The school is managed by Ascent Clas­sical Acad­emies and the board meetings would likely be held in Golden, 30 miles from the dis­trict and the tax­payers who support the school,” the statement said. “It would also be ‘self-repli­cating,’ meaning that the board will select replace­ments for members who have com­pleted terms – a model that does not promote public account­ability.”

Eric Coyk­endall, asso­ciate director of the Barney Charter School Ini­tiative, said while the charter denial is unfor­tunate, ACA and BCSI have to pay attention to the reasons the board gave for rejecting the appli­cation, par­tic­u­larly regarding school gov­er­nance.

“Pol­itics may have affected the decision in a neg­ative way, but we also have to take seri­ously the reasons the dis­trict gave for its rejection.”

These political forces, according to Schuler, came in the form of the local chapter of the NAACP, the Boulder Valley Edu­cation Asso­ci­ation, and a local LGBTQ rights group. In a Jan. 19 opinion for the Daily Camera, Kristine Johnson and Louisa Matthias, co-chairs of Boulder’s NAACP chapter, claimed ACA’s asso­ci­ation with Hillsdale College, through BCSI, meant it was not a good fit for the com­munity because Hillsdale is a “reli­giously-ori­ented school with right-wing asso­ci­a­tions,” and reli­gious charter schools should not receive public funding.

BVSD’s statement on the sit­u­ation says ACA requested waivers from the school district’s non dis­crim­i­nation policies “without ade­quately explaining the need for the waiver or offering a sat­is­factory replacement.” The school board par­tic­u­larly noted a lack of “ref­er­ences to gender identity/expression or physical char­ac­ter­istics.”

Schuler main­tained that the fears about dis­crim­i­nation from the new charter school are unfounded.

“We had requested a waiver from the district’s nondis­crim­i­nation policy, and we were very clear about our rationale — our policy on dis­crim­i­nation pro­tects everyone’s rights,” he said. “It’s important we handle com­plaints our­selves, as a charter school.”

Coyk­endall said the accu­sa­tions against ACA and BCSI on the grounds of dis­crim­i­nation and pushing reli­gious or political views are “absurd, because none of that is legal.” The fact that BCSI has 20 schools throughout the country, he said, refutes the accu­sa­tions.

“Not only would we advise against it, but it almost doesn’t matter because you can’t do that,” he said. “If you were attempting to use a charter school to pros­e­lytize, you wouldn’t be able to get away with it for very long, and you espe­cially wouldn’t be able to get away with it if you had 20 schools in nine states. It’s lever­aging in sort of an absurd assumption to get people to believe there’s some­thing sub­stantial there.”

According to Coyk­endall, schools that provide serious edu­cation will have to teach about religion to some extent.

“Sure, edu­cation is political — it’s impos­sible to get away from that on some level. But we are pro­viding stu­dents with a good history edu­cation, par­tic­u­larly in the history of the West and the history of America and American gov­ernment, but not one that’s par­tisan,” he said. “As far as religion, you can’t teach Western history and lit­er­ature without teaching some religion. People like to trade on this ambi­guity: ‘Well, you’re teaching about religion; therefore, you’re teaching religion.’ That’s not the case at all. Any serious school is teaching about religion. It’s just a matter of the approach that’s taken.”

In a column pub­lished in the Daily Camera, Pres­ident Larry Arnn also spoke to the crit­i­cisms regarding religion which were put forward in a Feb. 2 edi­torial from the Daily Camera’s edi­torial board.

“The edi­torial pointed out ref­er­ences to the Christian faith in the Hillsdale College mission statement. It omits the par­allel ref­er­ences to ‘civil and reli­gious liberty,’ a founding com­mitment of the College since 1844,” Arnn wrote. “We under­stand that under this prin­ciple, public edu­cation must be strictly secular. Public edu­cation exists rather for the student to learn the skills and knowledge nec­essary for free cit­i­zenship. This includes espe­cially the right of reli­gious freedom.”

Schuler says ACA is con­sid­ering dif­ferent options moving forward in hopes of even­tually opening ACA Flatirons.

“We’re con­sid­ering addi­tional options given that the State Board of Edu­cation did not address the legal issues behind our appeal. They had a respon­si­bility to con­sider the legal aspects, which they didn’t do,” Schuler said. “The pres­ident of the state board of edu­cation also sug­gested that the school should work with the statewide charter office. We’re looking at all of our options, and we’re also con­sid­ering applying again next year. We’re still com­mitted to offering the best edu­cation.”


  • George Gibbs

    I earnestly support the BCSI; the edu­cation is very good … Which is why it’s a tragedy that now it must suffer for Hillsdale’s unwise and wholly unnec­essary deci­sions to codify on its reli­gious incli­na­tions and to asso­ciate polit­i­cally with the calamitous Trump admin­is­tration — both deci­sions cal­cu­lated to benefit the college legally and both without the counsel of the alumni at large.
    If the chickens are already coming home to roost, just imagine how much worse it will be with the political and cul­tural retal­i­ation against “con­ser­v­ative” insti­tu­tions fol­lowing Trump’s exit from power — probably as near as two years from now, pos­sibly sooner. Dis­graceful and alarming. The college’s true mission has been gambled on and all but lost.

    • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

      This rejection says more about the current state of the political Left than it does about Hillsdale College’s restrained support for Pres­ident Trump. It goes without saying that the NAACP and just about any LGBTQ group are going to be opposed to a charter school asso­ci­ation with ANY con­ser­v­ative uni­versity. Be that Hillsdale College or any other con­ser­v­ative school. All the Left has is their oppo­sition to con­ser­vatism-they have nothing else.

      The NAACP should be behind ANY pro­posal that benefit the edu­cation of inner city black stu­dents, since their test scores are almost uni­ver­sally appallingly defi­cient. I said they ‘should be’, but since the NAACP has long ago made it quite clear they are little more than a PAC group for the Democrat Party we shouldn’t be sur­prised they use this occasion to make a backhand slap against the Trump Admin­is­tration-at the expense of minority stu­dents who might be attending this school.

      As for your feelings about the ‘calamitous Trump Admin­is­tration’ we’ll just have to agree to dis­agree on that. Record low unem­ployment, high GDP growth, trade treaty rene­go­ti­ation to benefit American workers, unprece­dented Tax Reform, reduction in anti-growth reg­u­la­tions, strength­ening our mil­itary, dis­abling ISIS, improving America’s image among allies and oppo­nents and on and on and on signal an Admin­is­tration that is working hard to improve the country. After 8 years of a do-nothing Admin­is­tration it’s refreshing to have a Pres­ident who enjoys taking on chal­lenges and accom­plishing things. If support for that upsets you, too bad.

      • George Gibbs

        My statement about the nature of the political right and your statement about the nature of the political left can both be true simul­ta­ne­ously. And I believe they are; these are very polarized times, after all.
        But regardless of whether Pres­ident Trump suc­ceeds in his goals or not (he’s not a man nor a leader who would be well-liked by Wash­ington, Lincoln, or even Reagan, I’d wager every­thing to say), once again, his means will greatly damage the allies left in his administration’s wake. And unfor­tu­nately, the mis­cal­cu­lating Hillsdale College is one of them.

        • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

          How do you know if Pres­ident Trump would be ‘liked’ by Wash­ington, Lincoln or Reagan? Whose to say? By the way, all of them-even including Wash­ington-were both liked and hated during their times in office. Lincoln-it goes without saying. Reagain-we’re old enough to remember the antipathy on the Left during his time in office. Wash­ington-you remember the Whiskey Rebellion?

          Pres­i­dents who accom­plish great things during their Admin­is­tra­tions manage to offend a lot of people, it’s the nature of the job. I’m not saying Trump is at the level of those three great leaders, but he could be regarded as such some day. Like him or not, he’s working his fanny off to accom­plish things for average Amer­icans. That alone makes him unique in modern times, when the GOP and Dems in the White House have mostly been elitists and the stooges of elitists, unin­ter­ested in average Amer­icans.

          As for Dr. Arnn, all he said was he sup­ported Trump over the choice we had in November, 2016. Hillary Clinton was one of the most corrupt can­di­dates we’ve had in recent times and a con­summate ‘insider’ who all the elitists sup­ported for the obvious reason-self interest. Arnn felt like many of us that Trump, despite his rough exterior, was the best choice of the two offered. Hardly a ringing endorsement or evi­dence that Hillsdale College has changed their his­torical mission.

          • George Gibbs

            Though it would seem we dis­agree irrec­on­cilably on Trump’s political char­acter and per­sonal char­acter (these are sep­arate issues regarding any leader, should be judged hon­estly as such by all decent people, and Hillsdale usually places greater value on the latter), here’s why you should concede my argument anyway:
            Hillsdale College’s main thrust these past two cen­turies has been to revere and educate on the lives of men who are already long dead, exceed­ingly well-read figures who can err no more and on whose legacies history has had time to render its verdict; so whether or not Trump is des­tined to one day be con­sidered “a great man”, at best the college gains vir­tually nothing material or imma­terial by sup­porting him NOW (namely, since you asked, by crafting large events around speakers and visible figures who openly support him to crowds of people who already support him and Hillsdale); and it loses A LOT in the eyes of normal, rel­a­tively non-par­tisan cit­izens who could have seen Hillsdale as it was his­tor­i­cally, a fount of clas­sical wisdom in a chaotic age. Likewise, on the religion question, Hillsdale has never had a problem attracting Christian stu­dents, yet now, by having “reaf­firmed” a Christian affil­i­ation in 2015, they have unde­niably alienated the non-Christian prospective com­munity. Again, I fail to see the advantage in either trade-off, and clearly scores of other alumni do, too. I support my Alma Mater, but I’m not going to pretend they haven’t erred mas­sively. Unless some­thing changes soon, we face com­plete betrayal — and for what?

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            I won’t concede the argument, because I don’t agree with your basic position-that somehow ‘Hillsdale College’ has made common cause with the Trump Admin­is­tration. Pres­ident Arnn was asked, of the two can­di­dates running for Pres­ident in 2016, who did he support? He answered Donald Trump, because Winston Churchill was not running. Hardly a ringing endorsement of Trump-but the fact that many folks, including you, have trans­lated that into unques­tioning support for the Pres­ident shows how polarized our pol­itics are these days.

            It’s impos­sible to have a mod­erate position in a political atmos­phere such as we have today, because the ‘either you are with us or against us’ folks won’t allow it. ANY tol­erance of the current Admin­is­tration is incon­ceivable to the other side, because in their stri­dency they have defined anyone opposed to them as not only ide­o­log­i­cally wrong, but evil people of the worst sort (racist, bigoted, hateful, etc, etc, etc.).

            Outside of his mild endorsement of the Pres­ident, Hillsdale College invited VP Pence to last year’s com­mencement. That’s it. That’s what has some people up in arms. And outside of now for­mally endorsing the indictment and impeachment of Donald Trump, HC is not going to win back the folks on that side. They’ve con­structed their ram­parts, they’ve lit their torches and nothing less than com­pletely buying into their rage is going to exon­erate Hillsdale College. And that’s just not going to happen.

            It’s a sign of the times, the same way as this nation was just before the Civil War. It will take a catharsis of similar pro­por­tions before we once again accept each other as loyal Amer­icans, I believe. Such is the gulf between the two sides.

          • George Gibbs

            I hope I haven’t become exhausting, because I earnestly wished to discuss this issue. As you said, it’s been civil, so I’ll amend and clarify my point slightly:
            Dr. Arnn’s own support for Trump may have been nothing more than lukewarm, but if con­ser­v­a­tives insist that uni­ver­sities focus on edu­cating young people rather than comment on pol­itics, then it def­i­nitely would have been best of Arnn — cer­tainly most fair to his stu­dents and alumni — to have simply declined to comment. (“Silent Cal” Coolidge was a great con­ser­v­ative leader for a reason.) It’s not a matter of “taking a stand”. Remember that we’re talking rep­u­tation here, so what Hillsdale is actually cul­pable for is dif­ferent from what Hillsdale is “reported” to be cul­pable for in the eyes of the public. If the left is as per­ni­cious as you describe, then that only makes my fears for Hillsdale’s rep­u­tation all the more jus­tified. The Atlantic, NYT, and Politico have each pub­lished articles in the past two years telling mil­lions of Amer­icans that Hillsdale is friendly with Trump/Pence — even when the admin­is­tration only does the “plau­sibly deniable”, such as hiring speakers who “happen to” support Trump/Pence or (worse) mailing out surveys that ask pointed political ques­tions. When the public bears down, it is too dif­ficult to dismiss such accu­sa­tions even one at a time (as proven, you remember, by the DeVos “tax carve-out” budget debacle) — but again: once the left retakes power in Wash­ington it will only be a matter of time before Hillsdale is dragged before a literal com­mittee or higher ed. com­mission, the “evi­dence” hastily tallied up and con­demned before the online press, and then what will have become of this fun­da­men­tally anti-gov­ernment college’s brief “vacation” under the “con­ser­v­ative” Trump admin­is­tration? Sold ideals plus net loss of support AND a pos­sible legal shut­tering — which is why I asked, on behalf of everyone: WHAT is the benefit? What’s the long-term strategy here?
            …You are essen­tially correct on every­thing you’ve said (Trump’s per­sonal decency is irrel­evant here); yet nothing about my main point con­tra­dicts yours, only your level of comfort with the direction being taken. All I’ve said is exactly what the alumni and I fear, and if you love Hillsdale College, then you should, too.

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            The Left have thrown the Con­sti­tution out the door and are making it up as they along to fit their needs, wants and rages. I have little doubt that what you suggest, should the Left regain political power in this country, will occur as you described it. All the more reason for con­ser­v­a­tives to stand firm in their ethics.

            Sure, Hillsdale can hide from the major issues dividing this country at the current time and, in doing so, escape being a target of ‘Atlantic’, NYT and other bas­tions of the Leftist Faith. But only tem­porarily. You don’t appease Leftist by staying com­placent and avoiding the fray, you only encourage them to greater attacks on your liberty.

            Don’t you remember, ‘Extremism in the defense of liberty is no vice. And mod­er­ation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.
            Mod­er­ation in the pro­tection of liberty is no virtue; extremism in the defense of freedom is no vice.’

            We are engaged in an ethical Civil War in this nation which will determine whether ‘a nation of the people, by the people and for the people will long endure’. The stakes are every bit as high today as they were in 1860, let there be no doubt about that. With the American news media allied against con­ser­v­a­tives with almost no excep­tions the forces arrayed against us are indeed for­mi­dable.

            Hillsdale College can hide from taking an active position in that fight on the basis the school’s image may suffer, or they can pitch all in and fight for the liberty that made this nation great. Doing it your way may buy the school a little more time, but only a little. The Left isn’t sat­isfied with half mea­sures in destroying this Republic, they want it all. If you don’t accept that, you don’t under­stand the gravity of the fight we are now engaged in.

          • George Gibbs

            If I once more accept your point, because again, you’re essen­tially correct — although I would rather de-escalate and work to bring back both “sides” of the ongoing civil war a little closer to the center, because neither right nor left is going any­where else yet we’ve still got to live together as Amer­icans — then I have only one more (important) cor­rection to make you:

            Hillsdale College is a college — and by its own stated founding prin­ciples, its highest goal is edu­cation beholden to its stu­dents (not donors or politi­cians). If you want intense “con­ser­v­ative” col­leges to help wage the political and reli­gious wars of ideas, there are a handful created in just the past few decades for — expressly — that purpose. Patrick Henry College (founded 2000) is one of them. Regent Uni­versity (founded 1977 by Pat Robertson) is another. Liberty Uni­versity (founded 1971 by Jerry Falwell) is yet another, and way larger. Hillsdale, on the other hand, was founded way back in 1844, and has a rich clas­sical & civic history plus immense aca­demic prestige. It was never meant to be a bar­gaining chip or a political pawn. (And if it were, better that it — and mil­lions of Amer­icans — wait for a WAY better champion than Donald Trump.) Most of the alumni don’t want our Alma Mater stooping to “wrestle with the pigs” of hyper-par­tisan modern pol­itics. We, lit­erally, “didn’t sign up for this.” If Dr. Arnn and any of the admin­is­tration cannot resist gam­bling pieces of the moral, intel­lectual, and financial value of the degree for which I (from the tender age of 18) worked so hard with rev­erent eye and ear, then I think they would rightly be better off running one of the dozens of fine con­ser­v­ative think-tanks the country has to offer the cause of freedom (Her­itage, Cato, AEI, Hudson, Lead­ership, Claremont…) — not an institute of higher edu­cation, charged with the care of the young minds we wish to do better than our­selves. Some things in the world should be kept pure, even while others are getting dirty fighting for them. That’s the real nature of “war”, and that’s the dif­ference here.

          • Alexan­derYp­si­lantis

            There is a lot of wisdom in what you say, but HC is not going to be able to avoid the fray in every case. This isn’t about one Admin­is­tration in Wash­ington DC, it’s about values that are cen­turies old. Either the college embraces values and ethics, or it doesn’t. Cer­tainly in 1860 the stu­dents of Hillsdale College who en-masse joined up to fight for the Union rec­og­nized that.

            The times are what they are. Lincoln did not seek Civil War in 1860, he had it thrust upon him. I’m 64 and we as a nation are as divided in our core values as at anytime in my life-even including the 1960’s. It’s hard to avoid engagement when the other side seeks to deny many of us the Rights which are noted in our Constitution’s Bill of Rights. The Courts have become par­tisan bat­tle­grounds, the Mass Media have become a tool of the other side.

            One last point-the ‘Atlantic’, NYT and WaPo are not unbiased arbiters of ethics in this country, they are clearly on the other side. Whether Hillsdale College jumps into the fray or not, they are not going to receive favorable cov­erage from those media ele­ments. Ever. Some­thing to con­sider.

          • George Gibbs

            Thanks for the dis­cussion.

          • Jen­nifer Melfi

            2 points need to be cleared up here in this dis­cussion:

            1) Dr. Arnn’s support of trump is at a much higher level than “lukewarm” or “mild” as was described. It has been throaty and not only support — he was willing to leave his current position to work in the Trump admin­is­tration in the edu­cation post. This is a level of support that he did NOT provide Mccain, Romney, or Pres­ident Bush (in 04 when I was at hillsdale). this level of support fun­da­men­tally changes the foun­dation of Mr. Ypsilanti’s argument.

            2) In the middle of the dis­cussion above, Mr. Ypsi­lanti seems to make the statement that up is down and down is up, and everyone just agreed with it — “This isn’t about one Admin­is­tration in Wash­ington DC, it’s about values that are cen­turies old. Either the college embraces values and ethics, or it doesn’t. ” Mr. Ypsi­lanti uses this quo­tation to support the idea that Hillsdale must take a side in the current political climate and support a “political” solution to secure the future of the college (to teach how they want, and all that jazz). But what is wrong with the quo­tation, is that it pre-sup­poses the idea that what Trump/Arnn are doing together is ethical. I would argue that what Trump does/did is clearly not ethical and he is a ter­rible moral steward for our nation (I don’t par­tic­u­larly care about this stuff, but it can’t be divorced from what you wrote). My bigger issue is that this is not nor­mative college pres­ident behavior, espe­cially for a HC pres­ident, and that this high, unmatched, level of support for this par­ticular pres­ident, to help achieve ends that are fun­da­men­tally at odds with Hillsdale tradition/values — this is a break with our values and I would argue is unethical as well.

      • Jen­nifer Melfi

        Sir, respect­fully, you are wrong. Hillsdale College had no listed reli­gious affil­i­ation as a christian school before it was “clar­ified” in 2015 under the guidance of Whalen. The ram­i­fi­ca­tions of this are just starting to emerge.

    • Jen­nifer Melfi

      I couldn’t agree more. The school has to sleep in the bed they made, but look at how this decision has come to impact their alumni and their brand in the national view. I guar­antee a solidly secular, con­ser­v­ative political stance bent on equality before the law for all would not be viewed the same way a reli­giously intol­erant stance is cur­rently being held. Hillsdale College made this decision to be able to get more dona­tions from a par­ticular class of person, to be able to dis­crim­inate against their own employees (save money on insurance), and to be able to legally put some of their more dis­crim­i­natory policies out of reach of law­suits by hiding under reli­gious grounds. It’s shameful.