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School is back in session, but Walsenburg campus of Colorado Springs charter school remains closed

January 6, 2016 Updated: January 7, 2016 at 7:24 am
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The spring semester started Wednesday for The Career Building Academy schools in Colorado Springs, Peyton and Pueblo. But the fourth campus, a residential program in Walsenburg, remains closed to students, according to officials from the alternative charter school system headquartered in Colorado Springs.

Officials shut down academic operations in Walsenburg on Nov. 20, after two staff members allegedly provided alcohol to minors.

Principal Dennis Hoyt, AmeriCorps VISTA worker Taylor Miles, 22, and assistant instructor Dalton Crowell-Brewer, 21 were fired that day.

"Because of the seriousness of the incident, the school suspended operations, and the board is evaluating the future and whether it can continue to be done in a safe and secure environment," said Bob Gardner, a Colorado Springs attorney who represents the school.

"Until the board feels policies and procedures are in place to prevent that from occurring again, the campus won't resume," he said.

Huerfano County sheriffs deputies arrested the two teachers on Nov. 20 for allegedly providing alcohol to students the previous night. Students told police they stole beer from the staff refrigerator, and Miles told police she bought alcohol for the students.

Hoyt was not present when the incident occurred, said Rick Johnson, founder and president of The Career Building Academy, but "took responsibility" for what happened.

"It's very disappointing," Johnson said. "It's been a great, successful program. It was the night before they were done for Thanksgiving break. I think they decided to have a party, and it got out of control."

Tim Kistler, superintendent of Peyton School District 23-JT, which is the charter authorizer for three of the four TCBA locations, called the incident "a really unfortunate situation."

"We hope it never happens again at any school," he said. "We've been in discussion on what steps could be taken to avoid this."

Kistler praised school officials for "acting swiftly" in dealing with the staff and students involved.

Police cited three students for underage consumption of alcohol. Of the seven students enrolled, three were from Colorado Springs, three from Pueblo and one was from Peyton. All students returned to their home high schools following the event, Johnson said.

Students attend the Walsenburg location for two weeks at a time, where they study core subjects and participate in vocational training in construction trades and culinary arts on a fast-tracked schedule. After a weekend at home, they return to Walsenburg for two more weeks. The Walsenburg site opened in August 2013 and gained recognition for garnering the support of reality television renovation host Kayleen McCabe.

Students are helping build a new veterans' center in Walsenburg, which Johnson said will continue as planned.

"We're waiting on zoning and fire suppression issues to do the final plans," he said, adding the excavation and other site work is scheduled to begin in the spring.

The Career Building Academy formed as an alternative high school program in Colorado Springs in 2010 and has expanded to 300 students system-wide. It caters to at-risk students, many who dropped out of traditional high school. Students are randomly drug tested for safety reasons, Johnson said. Students who fail a drug test can continue with academic lessons but not using power tools in vocational training.

A student from Colorado Springs who failed a school-administered drug test on Nov. 13 also brought police to the Walsenburg school, on reports that he was intoxicated and making threats toward staff and other students. He was removed from the school that night.

Another student was found drunk off campus last May, according to officials.

It's the only residential public education program in the state, with the exception of the Colorado School for the Deaf and the Blind and juvenile detention centers.

"In operating the Walsenburg campus, TCBA is attempting to meet a need for at-risk students for vocational and technical training, but the challenges of running that kind of residential program are pretty large," Gardner said.

Johnson said the board is considering shortening the two-week period students spend at the Walsenburg campus.

"We're looking at doing more intense vocational training," he said.

Although no students are at the Walsenburg campus now, Johnson said the location will continue to host events, which it normally uses to train culinary arts students.

Four of the eight AmeriCorps VISTA members who started working for TCBA last year are now gone. In addition to Miles being fired, another left the program and two others relocated to other assignments, Johnson said. The workers were supporting all TCBA schools but were based out of Walsenburg.

In addition to replacing the staff who were terminated at the Walsenburg campus, Johnson said another instructor had quit earlier in the year and will need to be replaced.

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