Colorado District Delivers Civil Rights Change

Each day we have the pleasure and honor to meet and work with extraordinary school leaders who are working hard to deliver on the hopes we, as parents, have for our own children and for all students in schools. We want to share the story of one such leader in Colorado, whose work we are excited to see, and whose success in supporting parental involvement and engendering community support for schools we’d like to see replicated in more school communities around the country.

In Colorado’s Adams County School District 14, Superintendent Patrick Sánchez has accomplished transformative change against very tall odds. In April 2014, our Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved a complaint against the district to fix what had become a very hostile environment for Latino students, parents and staff. During our investigation we confirmed, for example, that the district had prohibited students from speaking Spanish at school, even in social settings. Staff reportedly used racially hostile language toward Latino students and denigrated students’ cultural backgrounds.

A Latino staff member also reported to us that a principal justified messy bathrooms because “Mexicans are poor and don’t use toilet paper,” and “there are few restrooms in Mexico.” As a cause of the racially hostile environment, many Latino staff were forced to resign or were removed from their jobs.

This is the environment that Superintendent Sánchez sought to immediately fix when he took the reins in July 2012, after the previous Superintendent’s resignation following the start of our investigation. Since that time, the Adams 14 district has made impressive gains to deliver equal educational opportunity to the district’s 7,000+ students. Superintendent Sánchez publicly apologized to parents, the community and staff for harm that they suffered in the past, and has made great strides in restoring the community’s trust and involvement in the district.

Even before OCR reached its conclusion, Superintendent Sánchez began reaching out to community advocates who had been marginalized and sought the help of experts in equity and multiculturism. He hired new district staff to focus on equity, language instruction and STEM, and hosted speakers, such as professor Dr. Pedro Noguera, actor Edward James Olmos, Mexican author Carlos Cuauhtémoc Sánchez, and NASA engineer Homer Hickam, Jr., who spoke about the importance of education and academic achievement, equity, and encouraging students to achieve their dreams.

He created a Spanish-speaking parents’ advisory group, in addition to the public focus group meetings OCR required in its agreement, inviting back previously marginalized members of the community to take an active role in their children’s schooling. Superintendent Sánchez has also stressed the importance of bilingualism, emphasizing that, “we want to set the stage for our [bilingual] kids not just to graduate but to really excel.”

Additionally, Adams 14 schools have made tremendous academic progress under his leadership. As the White House noted when they identified Superintendent Sánchez as a Champion of Change, the district made exceptional academic gains in 2013, when it saw the largest single-year increase in Transitional Colorado Assessment Program scores since 2007.

Superintendent Sánchez has vigorously pursued piecing back together this once shattered community, recognizing that racially hostile environments do not disappear overnight, but rather must be combatted with targeted, consistent effort every day.

We applaud Superintendent Sánchez’s dedication and leadership at Adams 14. We are so grateful to see the inclusive school community the Superintendent is modeling, and we look forward to continued success for all of the district’s students going forward.

Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education and Catherine E. Lhamon is Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights


  1. Hello, first I will Identify myself by sharing my full name. I am Larry Quintana, presently serving as a Director on the Adams 14 Board of Education. I have been serving as a Board Member for 7 plus years. Sadly the first 3 years I was the lone member of the Board that was an advocate for the Hispanic students, parents and Adams 14 staff members that you can read about in the OCR findings in Case Number 08-10-1112-D. As a member of the Adams 14 community for 60 plus years and a civil rights leader in our community for 40 plus years, I believe I am more than recognized and respected for my work on race relations by the community of color and the white community as well.
    I am of the firm conviction that the article’s description of Superintendent Sanchez and his actions since assuming the leadership of Adams 14 in Summer 2012 is accurate and well stated by both Secretary of Education Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine E. Lhamon. I also will state: yes, please review and if able purchase the recorded process of the Adams 14 BOE meetings, not only for the last couple of months, but for that period when the individuals now attacking Superintendent Sanchez and his Administrative team were supporting the the very same individuals that the OCR determined were responsible for creating a hostile environment for Hispanic students, parents, and staff, as noted within the pages of the findings of OCR Case Number 08-10-1112-D.
    For the record, Adams 14 school district does not have any race or national origin discrimination lawsuits pending against it, and there are currently only two pending regulatory complaints of such discrimination. I am confident that the school district will be vindicated in connection with both of those regulatory complaints, and that the involved agencies, including OCR, will find these claims to be not only frivolous, but an abuse of those agencies’ limited investigatory resources.
    I close by suggesting that the individuals who have an issue with the district feel free, as I did, to provide their full names. Unlike in the past at Adams 14, discrimination complaints are now fairly and thoroughly investigated, and then documented to the OCR. Individuals are welcome and in fact encouraged to bring forward any good faith complaints.
    On the other hand, if you are acting in bad faith and simply out to advance a personal vendetta, an agenda of destruction or revenge, or the smearing of Adams 14’s leadership and Board of Education in the comments section of Secretary Duncan’s positive blog entry, that’s shameful, and speaks to your own character.

  2. I’m disappointed in the lack of research Arne Duncan is Secretary of Education and Catherine E. Lhamon is Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights have displayed. I invite you to look at the minutes of the most recent BOE meetings to see what is actually happening. If anything, communication from the community is being stifled. Community members and parents are being banned from schools for no real reason. A BOE member that was brave enough to speak up and ask questions has been censured! Policies have been changed to intimidate and hinder community feedback during BOE meetings. Numerous lawsuits are pending and/or in place. TAKE A LOOK AT WHAT IS REALLY GOING ON!

  3. As a college student, I’ve been following the story in this district for three years and find it interesting how the vocal minority, predominantly Anglo, continue to defame and disparage the Latino superintendent along with other administration of color. By all indications, since superintendent Sanchez took the job, the district has trended in the right direction and I wonder where were these people during the multiple year decline that preceded superintendent Sanchez…and why weren’t they concerned community members then? Anyone can have a lawsuit, winning is another story. I commend superintendent Sanchez for tolerating racists like you.

  4. I am a community member and former board member. First, the previous superintendent did not resign. Second, some investigation should have been done prior to printing this article. Parents and boardmembers are being banned from schools, there are multiple new OCR claims and lawsuits in various stages of process under this administration.

    • And by the way the educational websites ranking the states educational facilities has Adams 14 ranked 128 out of 128 districts.

  5. It is great to see a superintendent willing to acknowledge wrong doing and fight for change. I hope educational leaders across the country learn from Superintendent Sanchez’s wonderful example.

  6. wonderfull Job Mr.Sanchez, was not an easy Job to anybody. An reconize the hostile envirement, to the point of many of guilty ones, try to fired you. I aplaud your courage and persistent to do good.

  7. Maybe someone should look at the new your city 32 schools districts and see why parent involvement and/engagement and the voice of district family advocates are stilled.

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