Another week, another Monday edition of BRL Today! 🗞️💫

We’ve got an important pair of top stories for you this morning. First up, John Herrick explores the issue of disproportionate discipline at Boulder Valley School District, where Latino students were about 3.5 times more likely to be suspended than white students during the 2021-2022 school year. This story is being published as part of a statewide journalism collaboration on equity issues. Then climate reporter Tim Drugan tags along on an open space forest thinning project to see up-close how the city is keeping our natural environment in balance and safer from fire.

Got a story tip for us? Questions or comments? Don’t be shy.

Until Wednesday,

– Jezy, managing editor

Noemi Lastiri is a member of the Boulder Valley School District Latino Parent Advisory Council. The group has been advocating for changes to how BVSD punishes students. According to data provided to Boulder Reporting Lab, Latino students made up nearly 20% of BVSD’s 29,000 students last school year, but accounted for about 44% of the suspensions. Read the full story below. Credit: John Herrick

Quickly

☀️ Heat advisory: A heat advisory is in effect today between 10 a.m. and 9 p.m. for Boulder County residents below 6,000 feet. “Temperatures up to 105 expected.” Things should cool off somewhat throughout the week amid lingering chances of isolated rain and storms.

🔥 Blaze sparked by plane crash, at least one dead: Evacuation orders were issued in the Lefthand Canyon area yesterday — including the towns of Gold Hill and Ward — when a one-acre wildfire broke out after a small plane crash. At least one of the four passengers died in the crash.

➡️ Cameron Peak burn scar flooding kills two: In more tragic news, a woman and girl died Friday night as a result of severe flash flooding in the Cameron Peak burn scar. “The Larimer County Sheriff’s Office confirmed the two deaths late Friday night,” KDVR reported. “It happened in the Buckhorn area, where officials also said a structure was lost. No further information was immediately available about what happened.”

💰 Wildfire Action Program grant: Boulder County has been selected to receive $1 million in grant assistance from the Colorado Strategic Wildfire Action Program. The funding will go toward forest restoration and wildfire mitigation work, in collaboration with the St. Vrain Forest Health Partnership

📞 New mental health crisis number in effect: As of this weekend, the new 988 crisis number for people experiencing a mental health emergency is live throughout the state. Callers with a Colorado area code will be connected to support from the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline via voice call, text or chat. People without a local area code should call the statewide crisis line at 1-844-493-8255 or text TALK to 38255. Mental Health Partners has also recently restored hours at its 24/7 walk-in crisis center.

🌎 Climate tax talk: Councilmembers will discuss the city’s proposed climate tax ballot item during the next Boulder City Council meeting on Thursday, July 21. “In its latest proposal, the city outlined plans to increase the community’s investment in climate efforts from the current annual rate of $4 million to $6.5 million through a new climate tax,” according to a news release from the City of Boulder. “The funds would support the city’s ongoing climate and resilience efforts. The new proposal includes plans to use $1.5 million of the collected revenues each year to accelerate wildfire resilience measures.” Read our coverage of the tax here.

🔄 Circular economy: And speaking of climate and the local economy, a reminder: The City of Boulder hosts the second session in its three-part webinar series on addressing the climate crisis locally tonight, July 18, 5:30–7 p.m. Building a “circular economy” will be the topic of conversation during the virtual information session. Register here.

Top Stories

Boulder Valley School District punishes Black and Latino students at disproportionately higher rates than most Colorado districts. Parents continue calls for accountability.

By John Herrick

Black and Latino parents of Boulder Valley School District students have been raising alarms for years that their children are punished more often for the same behaviors as white students. The district’s own data has consistently shown this disparity.

In 2020, under mounting pressure, BVSD reformed its discipline policies to try to reduce inequities. It removed police from schools, streamlined punishment guidelines across classrooms, and trained educators to de-escalate and resolve conflicts without resorting to punishment.

Since the reforms, fewer students have been suspended or referred to police. 

But the disparities that prompted the new policies remain. 

Latino students were about 3.5 times more likely to be suspended than white students during the 2021-2022 school year, according to data provided to Boulder Reporting Lab by the district. That figure reflects a disparity dating back more than a decade. 

While Latino students made up nearly 20% of BVSD’s 29,000 students, they accounted for about 44% of the suspensions.

The data indicate Latino students are generally punished for the same behaviors as their white peers — threats of physical harm, disobedience, fighting, possessing tobacco and marijuana. 

Suspensions and police referrals can have lasting impacts on young lives. Such punishment reduces the odds of graduating, makes it harder to excel academically, and increases the chances of entering the criminal legal system. 

“There has not been progress,” said Noemi Lastiri, member of the Latino Parent Advisory Council, which the district set up to advise it on equity issues. “Kids in high school keep complaining that they are not treated equally by teachers or by staff.”

To contextualize the trends in Boulder, BRL analyzed data from the Colorado Department of Education for the state’s 12 largest districts for the 2010-2011 to 2018-2019 school years. (Discipline data is unreliable for much of 2020 and 2021 because of Covid-19. The state has not finalized 2021-2022 data.)

This story is part of Chasing Progress, a Colorado News Collaborative project on social, economic and health equity among Black and Latino Coloradans.

Notably, BVSD’s overall suspension rate is lower than most of the state’s largest districts, according to data from 2018-2019. But that same year, it had the highest disparity in the suspension rates between Latino and white students among those districts.

‘It’s never going to be done’: City forest thinning projects highlight the ongoing maintenance needed to keep Boulder open space in balance and safer from wildfire

By Tim Drugan

On the south side of the Chautauqua Auditorium, 12th Street turns into a dirt road that meanders up towards the base of Green Mountain. Called the Enchanted Mesa trail, the wide path allows groups to walk several abreast — or one dog the space to frantically sniff to the limits of its leash without tangling itself in the underbrush. 

This summer, however, hikers and dogs should heed their surroundings on this path, as trucks belonging to Boulder’s Open Space and Mountain Parks drive up and down, carrying away logs that stood just days before as members of the Front Range arboretum.

Covering 90 acres from the south side of Chautauqua to the land above the  National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) campus, the Enchanted Mesa thinning project is aimed at reducing the threat of intense fire while working to restore the health of the forest.

Chris Wanner, the City of Boulder’s vegetation stewardship senior manager who oversees the project, met me at the picnic tables behind the auditorium. Wearing a sun-bleached, sweat-stained City of Boulder hat, Wanner acted as a guide to show me the project area and answer excessive questions along the way. 

As we covered the first straightaway, heading towards where the road turns left and gains altitude, Wanner explained that deciding where such projects are implemented is a project in itself: Where is the forest most in need of care? Where would a fire prove most problematic? “Where those things align is what we’re shooting for,” he said. 

A road, like the one we were walking on, helps guide such decisions. I mentioned to Wanner that on a recent hike behind NCAR, I’d noticed dense groves of trees with overgrown vegetation in their understory, which would seem to provide a foothold for fire should sparks land nearby. Wanner nodded, but explained that getting thinning machinery into such a rugged area would be difficult if not impossible.

“You could do helicopter logging or something like that, but then you’d need a helicopter, and the infrastructure to support it,” he said. “You’d need big trucks coming in to haul away the lumber, which means roads. It’s a balancing act of what is realistically operational — and if you’re talking helicopter logging, you’re exponentially increasing the cost of all those operations too.” 

Helicopters, it seems, aren’t cheap. 

As though to illustrate the comparative ease of access for the worksite we were meandering towards, a city truck passed us, driven by a young man in aviator sunglasses who stopped to offer hellos. Behind his truck rattled an empty trailer that bounced over divots carved by rainwater in the road. Not before the rattling disappeared up the path, Wanner and I stepped aside for another truck, this one filled with young men on their way to fell the trees that would fill the trailer up ahead.

When we were alone again, Wanner gestured to the hillside to our right to show an area the thinning crew had already moved through. Ponderosa Pines grew with gaps between trees, yet undergrowth was already sprouting in the spaces between. “This is green ash,” Wanner said, pulling on the leaves of one of the saplings. “They reproduce asexually so they can sprout right out of old roots.”

Green ash removal had prompted some outcry among those living nearby when thinning crews worked close to houses by Chautauqua. Impacted by Emerald Ash Borer, an invasive insect from northeastern Asia, most of the green ash by Chautauqua are either dying or dead, leaving an expanse of bony branches rising above the canopy. 

“[Green ash] is a nice shade tree,” Wanner said. “But when you’ve got Emerald Ash Borer running through it, they’re all gonna die.”

And dead trees offer themselves as ready fuel to fire. To mitigate this risk, Wanner and his team worked along where houses met the swath of retired flora.

“We were working to build a buffer between the fuels and the houses,” Wanner said. “One of the concerns we ran into was it was so dramatic. People were used to having this cover in the area, so [the thinning] came as a bit of a shock.”

Wanner said complaint calls ranged from “I’ve been hiking this trail for 30 years and I don’t want it to change,” to “You’re taking away my favorite tree.” But he also said perspectives are shifting after the Marshall and NCAR fires. Now he’s getting just as many calls from residents demanding to know when the city is going to come clean up flammable material. 

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BRL Picks

🍫 Boulder County Chocolate Festival: Looking to satisfy your sweet tooth? Head to Longmont on Saturday, July 23, for the Boulder County Chocolate Festival. Sample and purchase offerings from Colorado chocolatiers during this summer highlight featuring tastings, carnival games, contests and more. Tickets are $10 for adults, with free admission for kids under 12.

⛰️ Meadow Music: If it’s family-friendly entertainment you’re looking for, don’t miss tonight’s installment of Meadow Music with Jeff & Paige at Chautauqua Green at 5:30 p.m. The award-winning environmental education program and kids’ concert series celebrates its 18th anniversary this summer, with performances running through Sunday, Aug. 28.

🧳 ‘Traveling’ Exhibition opens: Dairy Arts Center hosts an opening reception for a new exhibition exploring “our human desire to travel and our ability to reflect experiences through art.” The free event kicks off at 5 p.m. with live music and refreshments. The aptly named Traveling Exhibition runs July 22–Sept. 17, featuring works by Amy Guion Clay and Caroline Douglas, Louise Grauer, Kristen Snedeker and more.

Covid-19 Updates Boulder County: July 18, 2022

  • 170 daily new cases (7-day avg.) ⬆️Up 89% over preceding 7-day avg.
  • 13 patients hospitalized with Covid (7-day avg.) Down from a high of 21 last week.
  • 48% percent of ICU is occupied. Down from avg. of 67% since July 2020.
  • Note: Stazio Ball Fields in Boulder is now the only free community testing site in Boulder County. It’s open 7 days a week, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m.

What We’re Reading

📖 Questions surround ‘middle income’ housing authority: “Colorado is starting an experiment that could eventually deliver billions of dollars of loans to build income-restricted housing to ease the state’s housing crunch — but it comes with significant concerns after a similar effort in California delivered mixed results. Known as the Middle Income Housing Authority, the new office aims to build housing in the ‘missing middle’ that is not addressed by traditional affordable housing programs.” [CPR]

ICYMI from BRL

📣 ‘What am I doing this for?’: Amid another grim season of mass shootings, three former youth gun reform activists from Boulder reflect on why they left the movement. No local residents were on the team behind last month’s March For Our Lives rally in Denver, according to its lead organizer.

🐶 Hound helps grieving pet owners find closure after Marshall FireIn the wake of the most destructive wildfire in Colorado history, a local missing persons nonprofit expanded its mission to help Boulder County residents find the remains of missing pets. In a photo essay, the Boulder Reporting Lab documents two search missions in Superior and Louisville.

👮 Boulder City Council seeks changes to police department’s partnership with the FBI. During a town hall hosted by the Boulder Police Department, the police chief urged residents supportive of the existing agreement to get involved in city council meetings as it finalizes its Master Plan.

➡️ One in 10 adults over 65 are victims of elder abuse nationally. What are the warning signs to look for in Boulder County — and what resources are available to help? Case referrals to Boulder County Adult Protective Services have increased by 29% since 2018, but officials say those numbers may not tell the whole story.

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Thanks for reading!

Our journalism depends on you.
Have a story tip for us?
Send us your ideas at tips@boulderreportinglab.org.

– The BRL Team

Jezy J. Gray

I’m the managing editor of the Boulder Reporting Lab. In addition to years of writing on the culture, politics and history of my home state of Oklahoma, I was the final editor-in-chief of the Tulsa Voice, a local bi-weekly newspaper where I led a small but mighty team of journalists to regional and national honors in feature writing, diversity reporting, LGBTQ+ coverage and more. I look forward to listening to and learning from the Boulder community as we work together on telling the stories that matter here.