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Evacuation order causes school, district standoff

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ESPAÃ’OLA – An Española charter school is in a standoff with the school district, claiming the district has a responsibility to transport and feed students, even though the district-owned facility where the school is housed was ordered closed by state inspectors last week.

Cariños de Los Ninos Charter School has operated at the former Española Middle School for eight years. But last week the state Construction Industries Division sent a letter to both the superintendent and the charter school’s chancellor saying that an inspection prompted by complaints from parents revealed “egregious violations” that constitute “unsafe conditions affecting children, students and faculty.”

The letter cited 24 conditions – including exposed energized electric wires within reach of children, non-functional doors, asbestos in ceiling and floor tiles, the presence of mold, inadequate ventilation, leaky roofs and a heating system that doesn’t work – that needed to be remedied by Friday. Failing that, CID said, the school had to vacate the premises.

Española Public Schools, which also housed a kindergarten class and pre-K program at the facility, has since relocated approximately 150 students to two elementary schools. “I’m not going to compromise the health, safety and welfare of students by keeping them in a facility that’s unsafe,” Superintendent Danny Trujillo said.

But on Tuesday – the first day back to school after the deadline and the Labor Day weekend – the kindergarten-to-eighth-grade Cariños de Los Ninos was still operating at the site and 175 of its 200 students showed up for school. “We have a court order that says we’re entitled to that property,” stemming from earlier legal action, said Ronald VanAmberg, an attorney representing the charter school, said.

He said some of the alleged violations cited in CID’s letter weren’t specific enough to address and CID has been unwilling to work with the school. “CID has not identified the exact problems, they have not said what particular aspects resulted in a red tag,” he said.

The school district and charter school have been at odds before. Last May, Cariños de Los Ninos sued the school district, alleging the district was breaching the lease in an effort to have the dual-language K-8 charter school removed from the facility. That resulted in court orders from District Judge Sarah Singleton that allowed the charter school to occupy designated parts of the building.

But after the CID’s “red tag” order to vacate the building, the school district is now refusing to transport Cariños students to the school or feed them. “To refuse transportation and food to our students is and (sic) obstruction of each child’s right to a free public education and a violation of the federal program that pays for these meals,” Vernon Jaramillo, the school’s chancellor, wrote in an email to state education officials Tuesday.

Superintendent Trujillo said he won’t provide those services at a location that’s been deemed unsafe by state officials, adding that Cariños has been offered other accommodation on district-owned property. The charter school on its own provided breakfast and lunch to its students Tuesday.

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