Adams 14 school district announced Thursday that students will return to the classroom next week, but made clear that the decision was against school and district leaders’ wishes to wait another week before ending virtual learning.
Instead, they said, the management company overseeing the district directed students and staff to be at school on Tuesday – a notion that MGT Consulting disputes – as the conflict over when to resume in-person learning has become just the latest round in the feud between the two.
“This is just one more example of patterns of activity that go beyond being unprofessional and that crosses the line into vengefulness,” said Robert Lundin, executive director of communications and special projects for Adams 14.
The relationship between Adams 14 and its state-mandated manager reached a new degree of enmity this week after it was revealed the school board is suing the company for allegedly violating state public record laws, voted to end its contract with the firm, and sent a notice to MGT Consulting stating that its manager for the district, Andre Wright, can no longer contact the district or employees.
District officials even went so far as to lock Wright out of both his work email and school buildings, according to district emails obtained by The Denver Post.
“The tension over this decision is indicative of a larger problem, which is that the district is violating the order of the State Board of Education — again,” Wright said in a statement. “Earlier this week, the superintendent inexplicably revoked my access to the district offices. This is the second time in six months that the district has locked out MGT, even though the district has agreed that MGT is the lead partner.”
Adams 14 announced on Jan. 7 that the district planned to move all schools to virtual learning for at least a week amid a rapid increase in coronavirus infections in Adams County. The school district, based in Commerce City, has about 6,000 students.
The move wasn’t surprising given the highly contagious omicron variant is infecting more and more Coloradans, leading to a surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations. School officials across the Denver metro have said they are doing everything they can to keep their buildings open for in-person learning, but also warned parents to be prepared for individual schools or classes to go online as more of their staff are becoming sick.
Adams 14 is one of the first districts to move all schools into virtual learning and last week the district told parents that it would decide by Thursday on whether to remain remote or to resume in-person classes.
Adams 14 staff met on Thursday to discuss whether to reopen school buildings next week, ultimately deciding they wanted to wait another week to see what happens with cases and to give them more time to develop a system they could use to move individual campuses or classes to remote-learning based on specific metrics, such as absenteeism, instead of the entire district.
The decision was supported by the district’s principals and Superintendent Karla Loria asked both the school board and Wright, the MGT manager, to approve the recommendation by 3 p.m., Lundin said.
At about 3:30 p.m., Lundin emailed the principals saying that “Mr. Wright issued a directive indicating instead that all instruction was to occur in person for the entirety of next week. No further explanation was given,” according to a copy of the email reviewed by The Post.
The newspaper has not seen the initial email sent by Wright or MGT Consulting, but another email sent at 4:20 p.m., by an employee for MGT Consulting on Wright’s behalf — his email was disconnected — told district staff that this week was supposed to have been spent getting their plan in place and resolving teacher demands related to mitigating the spread of the virus.
“This district has had enough time to do this work and any additional time adversely impacts the community,” said the email. “My recommendation is to return Monday to in-person learning until further notice.”
Lundin said MGT Consulting’s response was a “directive” that the district was bound to follow and noted that it came two days after the school board voted for a second time to sever ties with the company. (After the first time, the State Board of Education forced the district to work with the company and briefly pulled Adams 14’s accreditation.)
“We have no idea what the implications will be,” Lundin said. “It is understandable that families would feel unsettled and lose confidence. Kids should not be caught in the crossfire of the agenda of adults.”
MGT Consulting said it made a recommendation.
“After evaluating the current situation in Adams 14, I recommend that schools reopen for in-person learning next week,” Wright said in his statement. “Our schools and offices are taking many precautions, and in-person learning is so critical for students, especially after the disruptions of the last two years.”
At least part of the clash over whether to resume in-person classes is occurring because the response from MGT Consulting came from Wright.
The school board sent a notice to the company on Tuesday, saying that while it expects MGT Consulting to work until its contract ends on April 11, Wright is no longer allowed to contact district employees. The notice, which was obtained by The Post, states that Wright breached his contract by firing an employee “outside of his authority.”
“The concern is that this return to school email that was sent out was based on an approval of Andre Wright and the district has previously advised MGT that Andre Wright is not to have any other contact with the district or district staff,” said Joe Salazar, an attorney representing Adams 14’s school board in its lawsuit against the company.
He declined to comment further on the allegations against Wright. MGT Consulting declined The Post’s request for an interview with Wright.
Adams 14’s school board is seeking public documents via a lawsuit related to an investigation by the company into “a personnel matter.” The investigation occurred as the district was conducting its own financial audit, the results of which have not been made public.
A hearing on the lawsuit is planned for Jan. 21.