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On Monday, Oct. 16, the Colorado Supreme Court unanimously abandoned the political subdivision doctrine known as the Rule of Martin. For more than half a century, the Rule of Martin has been used by state departments, state agencies, and the Colorado State Board of Education to escape from lawsuits — filed by municipalities, counties, school districts and other political subdivisions — for harm caused by state action. The Rule of Martin has been wielded by the State Board against school districts with the State Board claiming “superiority” over local boards of education, but that power ended today. The Supreme Court’s decision to abandon the Rule of Martin doctrine now allows any political subdivision (e.g., counties, municipalities and school districts) to hold the state accountable for its actions, and specifically allows school districts to challenge the State Board for statutory or constitutional violations upon a showing of standing.

"Over the past several years, Adams 14 has tried to work with the Colorado State Board of Education to improve on how the Accountability Act has been applied to school districts, particularly to districts in economically disadvantaged areas and with high student-of-color populations," said Adams 14 Board of Education President Reneé Lovato. "Instead of respectful government-to-government collaboration, the State Board unilaterally handed down punitive decisions while completely disregarding the negative impact those decisions had on our students, staff and community," said Lovato. "This Supreme Court decision is not only a win for Adams 14, but for all Colorado school districts experiencing a heavy-handed State Board. My hope is that we can now move forward and continue thoughtful and compassionate collaboration with state education officials in ways that benefit our students."

"For over 50 years, the political subdivision doctrine has been wielded by state departments and the Colorado State Board of Education to stop counties, municipalities, and school districts from suing for harm caused by state action," said Adams 14 Chief Legal Counsel Joseph Salazar. "Today, because of the efforts of Adams 14, the political subdivision doctrine no longer exists. The gravity of this decision means that the State Board can no longer lord over school districts with impunity, and state departments can now be sued by local governments for harm caused by state action. Every decision the State Board makes from here on out that violates a school district's statutory or constitutional right can now be challenged,” Salazar said.

As part of its ruling, the Supreme Court still found that the trial court was correct in dismissing Adams 14’s suit for lack of standing. However, this part of the Supreme Court’s decision has no bearing on Adams 14, as the district was already successful in defeating the State Board’s May 2022 Order. The end result is that Adams 14’s accreditation was reinstated and Adams 14 defeated the State Board’s reorganization order. Today, Adams 14 is accredited and its recent student achievement scores demonstrate that the district is making positive gains that meet or surpassed the state’s in a few categories, specifically Student Growth Percentile and student participation. 

“As it now stands, Adams 14 has won the overall war against the State Board, and we enabled school districts across Colorado to pursue justice for all students,” said Salazar.