3 more cities investigating string of Latter-day Saint church burglaries

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The investigation into a recent rash of break-ins and vandalism at meetinghouses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is expanding.

Last week, Herriman police reported 22 church burglaries believed to have happened sometime between Sept. 20 and Sept. 22. Now, West Jordan police, South Jordan police and Riverton police say they are investigating close to dozen similar incidents in their jurisdictions during the same time frame.

Police say at least one TV was stolen during the break-ins. But, otherwise, the damage has been limited to the main doors and office doors inside that are damaged when the burglar, or burglars, make entry.

However, police say that has also added up. One officer told KSL.com the total damage from all of the recent break-ins is approximately $100,000. South Jordan police say a meeting with detectives from all the departments is expected to happen in the near future so detectives can compare notes in an effort to identify the burglars.

Meanwhile, South Jordan police have also confirmed that two meetinghouses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints were broken into in August and the vandals caused significantly more damage in those burglaries.

Between Aug. 21 and Aug. 23, churches at 4842 W. Vermillion Drive and 4484 W. Willoughby Drive were burglarized.

In addition to $2,700 damage caused to furniture and multiple door handles, South Jordan police say approximately $1,000 in gift cards were stolen from inside the bishop’s office at 4842 W. Vermillion Drive.

The church at 4484 W. Willoughby Drive, meanwhile, had approximately $30,000 damage done to multiple door handles, furniture, a piano and the church’s organ, according to police.

In those cases, police have received a video posted on social media showing multiple juveniles exiting the churches after they were locked up for the night.

As of Wednesday, police say there is no evidence linking the two South Jordan cases with the latest rash of burglaries.

Gun control: California doubled the tax on firearm, ammo sales
California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters at Del Mar Fairgrounds in Del Mar, California.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom speaks to reporters at Del Mar Fairgrounds on Feb. 18, 2022, in Del Mar, Calif. Newsom signed a law, Tuesday, Sept. 26, 2023, raising taxes on gun and ammunition sales to pay for school safety and violence prevention.

Nelvin C. Cepeda, The San Diego Union-Tribune via Associated Press

Along with banning people from carrying firearms in most public places, California will double the taxes on guns and ammunition under new laws Gov. Gavin Newsom signed this week.

The laws could test the limits of the U.S. Supreme Court’s new standard for interpreting the Second Amendment, according to The Associated Press.

The federal government already taxes the sale of guns and ammunition at either 10% or 11%, depending on the type of gun. The new law imposes another 11% on top of that, making California the only state with a separate tax on guns and ammunition, according to the gun control advocacy group Brady, per the AP.

The money would fund school safety and gun violence prevention programs.

The legislation also bans the concealed carrying of a gun in certain “sensitive places,” including educational institutions, parks and sporting events, and sets the minimum age to obtain a concealed carry permit at 21. It also strengthens background checks for people seeking firearm permits.

Another law bans people from carrying guns in 26 places, including public parks and playgrounds, public demonstrations and gatherings, amusement parks, churches, banks, zoos and “any other privately owned commercial establishment that is open to the public” unless the owner puts up a sign saying guns are allowed, according to the AP.

“While radical judges continue to strip away our ability to keep people safe, California will keep fighting — because gun safety laws work,” Newsom said in a press release.

But the Democratic governor also acknowledged that some of the legislation might not survive legal challenges since the U.S. Supreme Court has imposed a new standard on interpreting the nation’s gun laws.

“It may mean nothing if the federal courts are throwing them out,” Newsom said, per the AP. “We feel very strongly that these bills meet the (new standard), and they were drafted accordingly. But I’m not naive about the recklessness of the federal courts and the ideological agenda.”

The California Rifle and Pistol Association has already sued to block the law that prohibits people from carrying guns in most public places. 

“These laws will not make us safer. They are an unconstitutional retaliatory and vindictive response to the Supreme Court’s affirmation that the Second Amendment protects an individual’s right to choose to own a firearm for sport or to defend your family,” said Chuck Michel, president of the California Rifle and Pistol Association. “They are being challenged, and the second they are signed, the clock starts ticking towards a judgment striking them down.”

Court rejects Utah lawsuit over EPA clear air quality rule
Hazy air is seen in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023.

Hazy air is seen in Salt Lake City on Thursday, Jan. 26, 2023. A federal appeals court rejected Utah’s lawsuit over the EPA’s “good neighbor rule,” which will enforce new regulations on how much air pollution from power plants can flow across state lines.

Spenser Heaps, Deseret News

A federal appeals court has sided with the Biden administration after Utah sued over the Environmental Protection Agency’s “good neighbor” rule, which will enforce new regulations on how much air pollution from power plants can flow across state lines.

On Monday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit declined to stay the rule in a single-page ruling, writing: “Petitioners have not satisfied the stringent requirements.”

The regulation will impact 23 other states. Environmentalists and the Biden administration tout the rule as an important tool in fighting carbon emissions — Utah politicians, including Gov. Spencer Cox, criticized the rule, claiming that it could prematurely phase out the state’s power plants and hurt the economy.

Rich Piatt, a spokesperson for the Utah Attorney General’s Office, said the recent denial to stay the rule will not immediately impact Utah.

“First, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit has already stayed the EPA’s denial of Utah’s proposed State Implementation Plan and stayed the EPA’s implementation of the Federal Implementation Plan pending Utah’s legal challenges to EPA’s decisions,” Piatt said in an email. “Second, the EPA itself is issuing an interim final rule staying implementation of the FIP.”

The rule directs 23 states, including Utah, to meet the Clean Air Act’s “good neighbor” requirements, according to the EPA. The regulations target ground-level ozone — in Utah specifically, the EPA said nitrogen oxides from oil and gas activity in eastern Utah and power plants in Emery County drift into Colorado where it forms ozone and leads to poor air quality.

“This action will save thousands of lives and result in cleaner air and better health for millions of people living in downwind communities,” the EPA said in a news release.

The Sierra Club and other environmental groups praised the rule, and said it addressed dangerous smog pollution using a combination of approaches proven to limit ozone season emissions of nitrogen oxides, which leads to smog.

According to the Sierra Club, Rocky Mountain Power’s coal-fired Hunter and Huntington plants are some of the worst sources of regional haze pollution in the West.

But Cox, along with a handful of Utah politicians, called the rule “an egregious power grab that harms Utahns.”

“We’re very disappointed in this ozone transfer rule that was released by the (Biden) administration. We are doing energy the right way here in the state of Utah. And that is that we’re working on an all-of-the-above energy policy,” Cox said during the monthly PBS press conference in March.

In a statement, top GOP officials said Utah has “powered decades of prosperity by providing some of the country’s most reliable and affordable energy. This balanced and commonsense approach has powered our state, fueled our economy, and maintained a high quality of life for Utahns.”

The statement blasts the Biden administration for turning to “executive rulemaking to enact policies that will force early closures of Utah power plants, putting reliable, affordable, and dispatchable power significantly at risk — and only in a few years.”

The plan was issued on March 15, and Utah sued on June 20.

Where is Target closing stores due to increased crime, theft?
A Target store is seen June 29, 2016, in Hialeah, Florida.

A Target store is seen June 29, 2016, in Hialeah, Fla. Target announced on Sept. 26, 2023, that it will close nine store in four states, including one in East Harlem, New York and three in San Francisco, saying that theft and organized retail crime have threatened the safety of its workers and customers.

Alan Diaz, Associated Press

Target is closing nine stores, all but one of them in the West, because increasing theft and organized retail crime are putting employees and customers in harm’s way.

Meantime, people broke into several stores in Philadelphia on Tuesday night in a looting spree that went on for eight hours.

Three Target stores in California’s Bay area, three in Portland, Oregon, two in Seattle and one in New York City will shut their doors Oct. 21, according to the Minneapolis-based company.

Target says it cannot continue operating those stores because theft and organized retail crime are threatening the safety of its workers and customers and contributing to unsustainable business performance.

“We know that our stores serve an important role in their communities, but we can only be successful if the working and shopping environment is safe for all,” the company said in a statement.

“Before making this decision, we invested heavily in strategies to prevent and stop theft and organized retail crime in our stores, such as adding more security team members, using third-party guard services, and implementing theft-deterrent tools across our business. Despite our efforts, unfortunately, we continue to face fundamental challenges to operating these stores safely and successfully.”

Targets still has more than 150 locations open in the markets where the closures are taking place.

Per CBS News, the rise in shoplifting and other incidents at Target locations comes as other retailers say a rise in crime is hurting their business. Whole Foods in April temporarily closed one of its flagship stores in San Francisco, citing concerns that crime in the area endangered employees. Other retailers including Dick’s Sporting Goods and Ulta Beauty have also pointed to rising theft as a factor in shrinking profits.

In Philadelphia on Tuesday, police arrested more than a dozen people who looted multiple stores in the Center City area. Footlocker, Apple and Lululemon were among the stores broken into.

Acting Philadelphia Police Commissioner John Stanford said at a news conference Tuesday night that the looting “had nothing to do” with an earlier protest over charges being dismissed against a former police officer who fatally shot a 27-year-old man last month. Prosecutors refiled the charges hours after the judge dismissed the case, according to USA Today.

“What we had tonight was a bunch of criminal opportunists taking advantage of a situation and making an attempt to destroy our city,” the commissioner said. “It’s not going to be tolerated, we’ve made arrests and we will continue to make arrests.”

Trump committed fraud, inflated values of assets, judge finds
Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport in Waco, Texas.

Former President Donald Trump listens as he speaks with reporters after a campaign rally at Waco Regional Airport in Waco, Texas.

Evan Vucci, Associated Press

New York Supreme Court Justice Arthur Engoron ruled Tuesday that former President Donald Trump committed fraud for years while building his real estate empire.

The judge found that Trump along with executives, including his sons, Eric and Donald Jr., and his company misled banks, insurers and others by inflating the value of his assets and exaggerating his net worth on papers used to make deals and secure financing.

Engoron ordered the revocation of the former president’s business licenses, hindering his ability to do business in New York. An independent monitor will continue overseeing the Trump Organization’s operations, per AP News.

“Beyond mere bragging about his riches, Trump, his company and key executives repeatedly lied about them on his annual financial statements, reaping rewards such as favorable loan terms and lower insurance costs, Engoron found,” per AP News.

Christopher M. Kise, a lawyer representing Trump, called the decision “outrageous” and told The New York Times the former president will likely appeal, saying the judge ignored “basic legal, accounting and business principles.”

The judge rejected Trump’s argument that there was no wrongdoing because of a disclaimer on the financial statement, saying those tactics violated the law.

“In defendants’ world: rent regulated apartments are worth the same as unregulated apartments; restricted land is worth the same as unrestricted land; restrictions can evaporate into thin air; a disclaimer by one party casting responsibility on another party exonerates the other party’s lies,” Engoron wrote in his 35-page ruling, per AP News. “That is a fantasy world, not the real world.”

Trump’s defense team had requested that Engoron dismiss the case, arguing New York’s attorney general, Letitia James, had no authority to file such a lawsuit because there was no evidence showing the public had been harmed by Trump’s actions, and many of the allegations were “beyond the statute of limitations,” per The Guardian.

Some of the assets that had their values inflated include: Trump’s Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida, a penthouse apartment in Manhattan’s Trump Tower that belongs to the former president, office buildings and golf courses, per The Guardian.

While Tuesday’s ruling resolves part of the lawsuit, remaining claims, including James’ request for $250 million in penalties, will be decided during a nonjury trial scheduled to start Oct. 2. Trump’s defense is seeking a delay.

Who planned death of premature baby, then disposed body off I-80?

A Wasatch County woman was charged Tuesday with aggravated murder and accused of killing her newborn son and disposing his body in Parleys Canyon.

Jeffrey D. Allred, Deseret News

An 18-year-old Wasatch County woman has been arrested and accused of killing her 1-month-old son and disposing his body in Parleys Canyon.

Estrella Meza Ojeda was booked into the Wasatch County Jail over the weekend and charged Tuesday in 4th District Court with aggravated murder, a first-degree felony; obstruction of justice, a second-degree felony; and abuse or desecration of a dead body, a third-degree felony. Her initial appearance in court is scheduled for Wednesday morning.

Police say Ojeda deprived her son of supplemental oxygen he needed to survive, and planned his death “by researching and even attempting to take his life before ultimately causing his death,” according to a police booking affidavit.


Child abuse resources:

  • Utah Domestic Violence Coalition operates a confidential statewide, 24-hour domestic abuse hotline at 1-800-897-LINK (5465). Resources are also available online: udvc.org. The statewide child abuse and neglect hotline is 1-855-323-DCFS (3237).

Help with Children

Those who feel stressed out with a child, who need a break or who feel like they need counseling or training can reach out to one of the following agencies:

  • The Family Support Center has 15 locations throughout the state and offers a free crisis nursery for parents who have to keep appointments or who are stressed out. They also offer counseling and family mentoring. Call 801-955-9110 or visit familysupportcenter.org/contact.php for more information.
  • Prevent Child Abuse Utah provides home visiting in Weber, Davis, and Box Elder counties. Parent Educators provide support, education, and activities for families with young children. Their statewide education team offers diverse trainings on protective factors, digital safety, bullying, and child sex trafficking. They are available for in-person or virtual trainings and offer free online courses for the community at pcautah.org.
  • The Office of Home Visiting works with local agencies to provide home visits to pregnant women and young families who would like to know more about being parents. Home visitors are trained and can provide information about breastfeeding, developmental milestones, toilet training, nutrition, mental health, home safety, child development, and much more. Find out more at homevisiting.utah.gov.
  • The Safe Haven law allows birth parents in Utah to safely and anonymously give up custody of their newborn child at any hospital in the state, with no legal consequences and no questions asked. The child’s mother can drop off the child, or the mother can ask someone else to do it for her. The newborns should be dropped off at hospitals that are open 24 hours a day. Newborns given up in this manner will be cared for by the hospital staff, and the Utah Division of Child and Family Services will find a home for the child. For more information, visit utahsafehaven.org or call the 24-hour hotline at 866-458-0058.

“Estrella was overwhelmed with caring for a premature baby that needed extra care to survive and wished to go back to a single, nonmother, lifestyle and begin a new life with (her new boyfriend). She also took care not only to dispose of D.O.’s body, but also attempted to erase any and all traces of his birth, life and death,” the affidavit states.

Ojeda gave birth to a son, identified by police by initials “D.O.” on Aug. 6. The baby was born prematurely and “was unable to breathe on his own and required oxygen,” the affidavit says. After 22 days in the newborn intensive care unit, the infant was allowed to go home with Ojeda.

“Estrella was advised by medical staff that D.O. needed supplemental oxygen in order to live and was sent home with oxygen tanks and an oxygen monitor for him,” according to the affidavit.

On Sept. 1, the infant was taken to the hospital after he stopped breathing. Ojeda arrived at the hospital without her son’s oxygen and “was again told that it was vital for survival.” Detectives now believe “that this was an attempt to end D.O.’s life and that Estrella was either interrupted or could not go through with it at this time,” the affidavit alleges.

Search warrants would later reveal that on Sept. 3, Ojeda allegedly conducted internet searches for topics on how to take a baby’s life, as well as the location of garbage dumps near her.

“The Google search bar showed recent searches stating, ‘How much time will I serve in prison for killing my baby?’ ‘Taking a baby’s life holy death,’ ‘Kamas sewage treatment plant,’ ‘Salt Lake solid waste,’ and ‘garbage dumps near me,'” the arrest report states.

Police say Ojeda searched these topics eight days before her son died, “showing that Estrella was actively planning to cause his death and dispose of his body.”

Police and state workers attempted to conduct welfare checks on Ojeda and her son on Sept. 11 and Sept. 14 but could not find them. On Sept. 19, investigators say Ojeda was found at a residence in Kamas, but she “did not offer any information on D.O.’s whereabouts at this time.”

Ojeda was taken to the police department for questioning.

“Estrella stated that it had been difficult trying to raise a baby that needed special care and that she had wanted to go back to work. Estrella stated that she had made a rash decision without thinking,” according to the affidavit.

After a pause, Ojeda claimed she sent her infant son to Mexico to live with her mother. She claimed a man from her hometown of Guerro, Mexico, was visiting and took the infant back with him.

“I asked repeatedly for information for anyone who could corroborate her story and she stated that only her mother and her sister (could), although their phone numbers were not working. She told me that D.O. is doing great and is being treated by a pediatrician in Mexico City,” detectives wrote in the affidavit.

Police noted that Mexico City is between four to five hours away from where she claimed the infant was living.

After several search warrants were served and police again questioned Ojeda, she claimed that on Sept. 10 she had borrowed her roommate’s car to meet someone at the store and took her son with her, but did not take his oxygen. At the store she says she believed her son was asleep. But when she returned home, “she stated that when she had removed D.O. from the vehicle, she noticed that he was dead. Estrella stated that D.O. was not breathing and that he did not have a pulse. She stated that she then drove D.O. toward Salt Lake City and disposed of his body on the side of the road,” according to the affidavit.

Ojeda agreed to show investigators where she allegedly disposed of the body. She took them to an exit off Interstate 80 in Parleys Canyon where two large crosses for law enforcement memorials are on a hill. She stated she wrapped her son’s body in a blanket. Police searching the area found a piece of fabric on the ground.

“When Estrella saw this fabric, she began to sob and try to go to the area. After a brief search of the area, it was determined that due to lack of lighting and the possibility of animal activity in the area disturbing or removing D.O.’s body, it was determined to establish a search plan with cadaver dogs and more officers,” police wrote in the affidavit.

The court documents do not indicate whether the body has been found. Calls to the Wasatch County Sheriff’s Office were not immediately returned.

Break-ins at 22 Latter-day Saint churches under investigation

Herriman police are investigating break-ins at 22 meetinghouses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in the city, including this one at 12682 Starlite Hill Lane.

Google Street View

Police are investigating a rash of church burglaries in Herriman.

Between Wednesday and Friday, police have received reports of break-ins at 22 meetinghouses of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. But, with the exception of one TV, Herriman Police Sgt. Josh Jennings says nothing has been taken.

The person, or group, has been entering the churches by damaging the main door handles, Jennings said. Once inside, a few offices have also been broken into. But again, no money was taken, he said. A few items inside the churches have also been “overturned,” but Jennings says there hasn’t been a lot of vandalism reported.

Investigators are still trying to determine if the buildings are being hit during a certain times of the day, he said. A motive for the break-ins is still being investigated. Anyone with information is asked to call police at 801-840-4000.

The churches that have been broken into are at the following locations:

  • 5562 W. 13680 South
  • 13122 S. Herriman Rose Blvd.
  • 40 N. Pioneer Street
  • 5633 W. 12900 South
  • 14068 W. Rosecrest Road
  • 13003 S. 6400 West
  • 13768 S. 6400 West
  • 14398 S. 6400 West
  • 13381 S. Pioneer Street
  • 12737 S. 6000 West
  • 12682 Starlite Hill Lane
  • 5424 W. Rosecrest Road
  • 6719 W. Valynn Drive
  • 5623 Mirabella Drive
  • 7079 Rose Canyon Road
  • 14172 Emmeline Drive
  • 5658 Yukon Park Lane
  • 14550 Juniper Crest Road
  • 6986 McCuiston Ave.
  • 5246 Mirasol Lane
  • 6593 W. Herriman Blvd.
  • 6869 W. Vista Springs
LGBTQ hate crimes rising in Utah; bomb threat sent to SLC drag show
Stickers and signs are shown on the door at the King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City.

The King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City is pictured Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

On Sunday, the King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City closed for the day after it received a bomb threat.

The threat, according to the shop’s owner, was over a drag queen-hosted storytime, making it one of dozens of hate crimes reported in 2023, which is shaping up to be a record year for Utah.

According to data from the Utah Department of Public Safety, there have been more hate crimes directed at the LGBTQ community as of July 2023 than the previous four years combined. Already, reported hate crimes targeting LGBTQ people have hit a five-year high this year.

“I’ve been doing this for 30 years. And to have targeted hate and targeted violence come into this mission of words and stories? It’s astounding. It’s sad. It’s disappointing. It’s unfortunate that this is becoming normalized,” said Calvin Crosby, who owns King’s English Bookstore.

Consider this:

  • So far in 2023, the Utah Department of Public Safety reported 63 hate crimes against LGBTQ people.
  • In 2022, there were 32 crimes against that same group.
  • In 2021, there were 15 hate crimes.
  • In 2020, there were two hate crimes.
  • In 2019, there were four hate crimes.

The King’s English Bookstore in Salt Lake City is pictured Monday, Sept. 25, 2023.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

According to the department, 21 of the 63 hate crimes reported this year were committed in Tooele — 19 were reported in Utah County, nine in Davis County and eight in Salt Lake County.

Most of the hate crimes reported in Utah are property crimes or vandalism, followed by simple assault, larceny and intimidation, according to the department. The data is still preliminary, and the department could make some amendments, but a spokesperson on Monday said there are typically no “major changes.”

The statewide increase aligns with national trends. In the last several years, the FBI has reported a rise in hate crimes against LGBTQ people. Drag shows have also become increasingly targeted, and between June 2022 to May 2023 the Institute for Strategic Dialogue recorded 203 incidents of drag events being threatened in the U.S.

Crosby said it was the fifth “threat and/or act of violence” directed at Tara Lipsyncki, a Utah drag queen who was set to perform at the story hour on Sunday.

“This just can’t be accepted as normal. This is not who we are,” Crosby said.

In Utah, most of the hate crimes against LGBTQ people coincided with Pride Month — 57 of the 63 incidents reported fell between the last week of May and the first week of July.

That same month, police around the state reported a string of pride flags being stolen or destroyed. On July 3, Salt Lake City police issued a news release asking for the public’s help after multiple pride flags were burned.

“There’s definitely some correlation with the month of June and Pride Month, where we’re seeing a spike,” said Mandy Biesinger, the field services supervisor for the Utah Bureau of Criminal Identification.

Biesinger said the rise could also be a result of an increased focus on reporting crimes. Police are being alerted to things like stolen pride flags, vandalism or homophobic threats at a higher rate, she said.

“The LGBT community has been really good at encouraging people to report,” Biesinger said. “So if I’m flying a pride flag, and that gets stolen, there’s better reporting to law enforcement about that now.”

The Salt Lake City Police Department has not officially labeled the incident at King’s English a hate crime, although several city leaders did on Monday. The bomb threat is still under investigation, and Biesinger says it will likely be filed away as an “intimidation” hate crime.

Crosby never actually saw the threat, but says he and his staff was alerted by Salt Lake police, who knocked on the shop’s door early Sunday telling them they had to evacuate. Later that day, Crosby said police received a second threat. After a K-9 unit swept the building, police gave Crosby and his staff the “all clear” to return, but the shop remained closed.

By Monday, staff at the King’s English were back to work, albeit a little rattled. The incident was condemned by Salt Lake County District Attorney Sim Gill and the Salt Lake City Council.

“This isn’t the only act of crime or intimidation that has occurred in our community this year, endangering children, families, and residents. From the destruction of Pride flags at homes in the Central Ninth District to the acts of intimidation outside Tea Zaanti’s all-ages drag show, we strongly condemn behavior that threatens the many diverse communities that make Salt Lake the welcoming and thriving city it is,” reads a statement from the council.

Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall said her administration is looking forward to working with King’s English Bookshop so that it can host the storytime at a later date.

“I cannot say this strongly enough, EVERYONE belongs in Salt Lake City. The actions today to cause fear at (King’s English) around a drag story time event are not welcome here,” Mendenhall posted on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Crosby, when asked if this was the end of drag story hour at the King’s English Bookshop, responded: “No, we’re not shutting it down.”

Correction: An earlier version incorrectly referred to Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall as the Salt Lake County mayor.

Editorial: Polis’ new free preschool needs immediate fixes

The rollout of universal preschool in Colorado for 38,000 kids has understandably been rocky.

But the great success of the program – providing funding for 15 hours of preschool for thousands of 4-year-olds and getting kids kindergarten-ready – is at risk of being overshadowed by the flaws in the new system.

Leaders with the state’s new Department of Early Childhood Education must act swiftly to make sure kids aren’t falling through the cracks and that enrollment for the 2024-25 school year is more equitable.

In 2020 voters approved increased tobacco and nicotine taxes to finally fund 10 hours of preschool in this state for every child a year before they attend kindergarten. Over the next two years, lawmakers built a new state department to run the program and passed laws creating rules around the program. Funding projections were optimistic and the state agreed to fund 15 hours of school for every kid and 30 hours for kids at risk of falling behind in school.

That program kicked off this fall to much fan-fare, including Gov. Jared Polis, a driving force behind the initiative, touting record numbers of kids enrolled in publicly-funded preschool programs across the state. The state opted for an online enrollment system that uses a single application for all schools with parents ranking their preference of school — regardless if it’s a private preschool center, an in-home care provider or a school-district-based program. The state then uses a lottery algorithm to assign kids to schools. Schools are funded on a per-pupil basis.

But while all of that is sound in theory, in practice, preschools are sounding alarm bells about under-enrollment, equity concerns, disabled children unable to get services, and a funding shortfall that could mean insolvency for small providers.

Leaders in school districts and private preschools are skeptical the state will ever make up that loss, despite assurances that the state will find funding to do so this year.

Mat Aubuchon, the director of learning services for Westminster Public Schools, estimated his district will fall $2 million short this year because about 50 students attending full-day school, because they have special needs or qualifying risk factors, don’t actually qualify for the extended school day under the state’s algorithm.

“The shortfall is happening all over the state. It just depends to what degree,” Aubuchon said.

Universal preschool is being described by these school leaders as the “largest unfunded mandate” schools have ever had. Because money is not going through the school finance formula, which allocates more money to rural schools, some schools are actually seeing a decrease in funding compared to prior years.

Betsy Nachand, who runs a preschool called New Hope Presbyterian in Castle Rock, had the opposite experience, where the per-student tuition rate was a significant increase in funding.

“Because of that we were able to significantly raise teacher pay this year,” Nachand said, who is thrilled that the program is helping parents with the expense of preschool.

Such disparate experiences with the funding indicate that changes are needed.

“It’s working for the rich citizens who are just getting extra money to send their students to preschool that they were already going to send, but what it really is doing is creating larger gaps between the haves and have nots,” said Wendy Birhanzel, the superintendent of Harrison, a small yet urban school district on the south side of Colorado Springs. “We are going door to door trying to find families who just don’t know how to navigate this system. Nothing has changed other than the state coming in and providing (universal pre-kindergarten) and now we have less kids being educated than before.”

Harrison School District 2 might simply be on the losing end of the parental choice built into the system.

Her neighboring superintendent, Michael Gaal, who leads School District 11 in Colorado Springs, has seen increased enrollment in his preschool program. Before enrollment opened, he went from school to school to find space to open up pre-school classrooms that he then listed on the state’s website where parents could find schools participating in the program and rank their preferences.

“We had our portal open and ready to go with all the descriptions for every classroom weeks before the portal were open but a lot of districts, they just played late to the game,” said, who was extremely supportive of the rollout even as he critiqued the delays in student assignments.

But even Cherry Creek Public Schools has seen a decrease in enrollment with almost half of the expected preschool students not enrolled for this school year. The school district is suing the state, along with other plaintiffs including Birhanzel, to attempt to make changes to the system.

We continue to believe in the vision for Colorado’s first universal preschool program, but the rollout makes clear experts were ignored during the program’s development and implementation.

“Not only did they refuse to listen, they didn’t even want us at the table,” said Cherry Creek Superintendent Chris Smith, whose school district is the largest plaintiff in a lawsuit filed against the state’s preschool implementation. “And really the purpose for signing on, for Creek, is we just want to partner. We just want a seat at the table.”

The state should immediately convene a working group with its greatest critics and its biggest supporters to hammer out quick fixes to get more kids in seats after the holiday break and long-term fixes for the 2024-25 enrollment, which will begin in a few short months.

The plaintiffs are asking for a massive overhaul of the system including the ability for school districts or private preschool providers to enroll students directly instead of going through the state’s single portal lottery system.

We’d like to see on-site enrollment opened up before the semester ends as an emergency measure to help school districts and private preschool providers fill seats, stay solvent, and get kids ready for kindergarten. Some school leaders we spoke to hope that the transition will become permanent, however, we know a lottery system can work and that it is the most equitable way for students to access high-quality programs regardless of wealth or influence. The lottery just has to be developed and implemented correctly.

We also know from a separate and unrelated lawsuit filed by the Denver Archdiocese opposing the lottery enrollment system, that without a universal enrollment system, many preschool providers would act as gatekeepers at their schools, refusing to serve some students or cherry-picking others. The lottery system is essential to make sure the best preschool programs are available to everyone regardless of income, race, religion or sexual orientation.

But for the lottery to be successful, the Department of Early Childhood Education must listen to providers who are having significant problems this year. It is clear that school districts and some providers were intentionally left out of the process of building the new system. It’s a baffling decision that we think stems from a desire to silence critics rather than to work with them.

The system has fallen short in extremely basic ways – for example, the online registration system for preschool was only available in two languages Spanish and English and communications from the new Colorado Department of Early Childhood education was only in English, including crucial information about how a parent had to “accept” their child’s placement by the Thursday after a match was made. The website now appears to also offer Arabic.

“We have 150 languages spoken in the Cherry Creek District,” Chris Smith said.

That is the simplest and easiest fix of the many problems school districts, private providers, and experts in school funding brought to The Denver Post in a heated editorial board meeting that lasted more than an hour.

Gov. Jared Polis has done well to bring this state a much-needed universal preschool program, but his accomplishment could be overshadowed if the state isn’t willing to listen to critics and prioritize at-risk students enrolled in quality programs. Colorado’s most at-risk students – children living in poverty or who are still learning English, or those with developmental disabilities or who are living in foster care – are the ones most in need of state-funded preschool.

Early childhood education is proven to be the most effective way of leveling the playing field for children and it’s one of the reasons this board supported Proposition EE to tax nicotine and increase the tobacco tax to fully fund preschool for every student in this state. Now we just have to get the implementation right.

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Letters: Who is to blame for the ugly play during the CU vs. CSU Showdown?

CSU vs. CU turned ugly

CSU Rams football continues to embarrass themselves and the state of Colorado. Their dirty play on Saturday night and disgraceful flopping by their defensive players in the fourth quarter made the game look more like an Italian soccer match than NCAA football. And, we all saw the vicious cheap shot.

Instead of acting like adults by taking responsibility and apologizing for the horrific late hit perpetrated by safety Henry Blackburn on CU’s 2-way star Travis Hunter, Coach Jay Norvell and athletic director Joe Parker have spent the last two days attempting to gaslight us into not believing what we all witnessed with our own eyes.

They insisted Blackburn “never intended to put anyone in harm’s way”, and “it’s not what we teach or coach”. However, the hit was clearly not the kind of “bang, bang play” coach Norvell would have us believe.  Champ Bailey, who happens to know a few things about playing the defensive back position, concluded that the late hit was malicious and intentional. Thanks to this cheap shot the Buffs will be without their best receiver and best cornerback for critical games against #10 Oregon and #5 USC. Do better Rams!

— Nick Bottinelli, Denver

Wow, The Denver Post should be called the CU Post!  Aren’t both CU and CSU Colorado schools?  Don’t kids from the Denver metro area attend both Universities? Based on the one-sided biased coverage by The Post of the Rocky Mountain Show Down one would assume Colorado State is a foreign university from outside the state!

CSU played hard-nosed football against an in-state rival and yes there were questionable hits by both teams but only one is called out by The Post. Not a mention of Shadeur Sanders poking a CSU player in the eyes or the crack back block against a CSU player in the OT.  It is a blatant hit job on CSU ignoring the tremendous effort by the Rams against the overwhelming hype of “Prime Time.”  The truth is, CSU dulled the Shine of Prime, and we really don’t need the sunglasses after all.

— Ken West, Pueblo

Broncos shouldn’t fold just yet

Re: “Broncos’ best hope is to tank for the privilege of drafting USC quarterback Caleb Williams,” Sept. 18 sports column

Tank the season for that USC quarterback? Mark, what are you smoking? I want some. Please.

I agree with Mark Kiszla and other sports writers who are not sold on the Payton-Wilson thing. What else can we call it? It’s a thing. Remember, Payton inherited Wilson. When a coach inherits a QB of Tom Brady’s character, you shut-up. But Wilson?

Personally, I’d bench Wilson. There is a reason Seattle got rid of him, and we are seeing it. However, to stay positive, many teams have done well after struggling early in the season. Last year Cincinnati started 0-2 and went to the playoffs. Detroit was horrible in the first half of last season then went on a tear.

Are the Broncos there? Not yet, but to give up on them so soon is a bit hasty. Wait until week 4 or 5, then we can have that discussion, and maybe smoke some of that stuff together. Ha!

— Walt Bonora, Erie

Impeachment inquiry is a waste of time

Kevin McCarthy has started an inquiry (without a vote) into President Joe Biden’s “alleged” improprieties hopefully leading to impeachable offenses. It is alleged McCarthy began this investigation in an attempt to save his position as speaker by mollifying very conservative members of the House. Does not the House of Representatives have anything else to do? Funding the Government? Working on Climate issues? Veterans Affairs Issues? DACA protection?

— Michèle Stark Hailpern, Denver

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