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Public charter schools in Montana set to open, related legislative tweaks possible • Daily Montanan

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Public charter schools in Montana set to open, related legislative tweaks possible • Daily Montanan


The Montana Legislature may consider “minor” changes to statutes related to public charter schools during its 2025 session following a recent court order, said a legislator and chairperson of an education committee.

But 18 schools are slated to open this year, according to the Office of Public Instruction.

Rep. Dave Bedey, R-Hamilton, said Thursday he believes the bill that opened the door for more charters is clear as written.

“At the end of the day, I’m just gratified that schools across the state are going to be able to put these innovative programs into place without delay,” Bedey said.

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In the 2023 session, the legislature approved House Bill 549, which eased the way for more charter schools through the public school system. However, a lawsuit filed this spring alleged the Office of Public Instruction was throwing up roadblocks.

Last month, a Lewis and Clark District Court judge disagreed with the Office of Public Instruction’s interpretation that certain prerequisites needed to be met to get the charter schools off the ground, such as a parental petition and approval from county commissioners.

The legal dispute took place as students made plans to attend the new schools, but educators alleged the argument over how to open them meant likely delays.

Last week, the court signed off on an agreement between the plaintiffs, the Montana Quality Education Coalition, and defendants, Superintendent Elsie Arntzen and the Office of Public Instruction, that resolves some of the fight.

In the stipulation, the Montana Quality Education Coalition agreed Arntzen and the OPI had implemented processes that allow the schools to start operating by July 1, 2024, and that they were in compliance with the court’s order for a preliminary injunction last month.

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Court order

“IT IS HEREBY ORDERED THAT this Court’s Preliminary Injunction Order, dated April 17, 2024, remains in effect pending an order terminating this Court’s preliminary injunction or until the Montana Legislature has the opportunity during the 2025 session to amend relevant statutory authority regarding the responsibilities of the Board of Public Education, the Office of Public Instruction, and the Superintendent of Public Instruction relative to the authorization of and opening of public charter schools in Montana. The remaining claims for declaratory and permanent injunctive relief are dismissed with prejudice and with each party bearing responsibility for their own attorney’s fees and costs.” — Order from Lewis and Clark District Court

The Montana Quality Education Coalition describes itself as made up of more than 100 school districts and five education organizations and one of the largest education advocacy organizations in Montana.

The agreement the judge approved acknowledges the preliminary injunction from April 17 remains in effect unless the court terminates it or the legislature amends relevant statutes. It also dismisses outstanding claims.

In an email this week, the Office of Public Instruction notes that as of May 13, it had opened 15 of 18 schools enrolling students this year.

“The OPI is working with one school to correct some of the information that was submitted and is waiting on applications from two schools,” the agency said in an email. “One of the approved public charter schools will not open until the fall of 2025.”

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Rep. Bedey, chairperson of the interim budget committee on education, said Thursday he doesn’t believe amendments are needed, although small changes are possible.

Rather, he said a plain reading of HB 549 clearly indicates the approval process for schools, the authority of the Board of Public Education, and the duty of the Office of Public Instruction.

All the same, Bedey said the legislature has an opportunity to make “some minor changes” to make the intentions of the bill “crystal clear and remove any ambiguity” given some people had a “contrary reading” of it.

At a committee meeting in March, legislators voted 6-2 to send a letter to Arntzen telling her she was failing students and not meeting her Constitutional duties related to HB 549 and other educational programs legislators had supported.

The Montana Quality Education Coalition filed the lawsuit later the same month.

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“It’s regrettable that this issue had to go to the courts for resolution because the meaning of the law was clear,” Bedey said. “It’s regrettable that we were unable to convince the superintendent of that when her lawyer appeared before us in a committee meeting in March.”



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Montana parents who lost custody of daughter after opposing gender transition claim 14-year-old was taken without warrant

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Montana parents who lost custody of daughter after opposing gender transition claim 14-year-old was taken without warrant


A Montana couple who claim they lost custody of their daughter after opposing a gender transition now allege the 14-year-old was taken from them by the state’s child protective services without a warrant, according to a new lawsuit.

The teen’s father, Todd Kolstad, and stepmother, Krista, slapped the agency with a federal suit earlier this week, claiming that social workers allegedly took their child without due process by not having a judge sign off on the warrant, the Daily Montanan reported.

The couple also allege their religious freedoms were ignored and their civil rights violated when CPS opted to put the teen in a psychiatric facility in Wyoming instead of Montana — and then banned them from communicating with the child.

The teen’s father, Todd Kolstad, and stepmother, Krista, are suing Montana’s child protective services after the 14-year-old was removed from their custody last year. Todd Kolstad / Facebook

The legal saga first erupted when the Kolstads’ said the teen, who is only identified as “H.K.” in court papers, told them last year that he identifies as transgender and wanted to transition to a male.

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The couple, however, said they refused the teen’s request because of their strong religious beliefs.

State officials were subsequently alerted last summer when H.K. expressed suicidal thoughts at school and was admitted to a hospital for in-patient psychiatric care after claiming to have ingested a mix of ibuprofen and toilet bowl cleaner.

Concerned about the risk of suicide and imminent harm, state officials argued, at the time, that they were justified in taking custody of H.K.

But the couple claim the social workers lied in an affidavit that H.K. faced “an imminent risk of physical harm” and left out any mention of their religious beliefs.

“Seizing a child without a warrant is excusable only when officials have reasonable cause to believe that the child is likely to experience serious bodily harm in the time that would be required to obtain a warrant,” the court filing states.

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The legal saga first erupted when the Kolstads’ said the teen, who is only identified as “H.K.” in court papers, told them last year that he identifies as transgender and wanted to transition to a male — but they refused. Todd Kolstad / Facebook

“(CPS) knew that H.K. was not facing an imminent substantial risk of serious harm when they seized her on Aug. 22,” the suit continued. “Defendants’ deceit of the state court made the court’s proceedings against the Kolstads a sham from start to finish.”

When they took custody of the teen, the state said they trying to find a permanent bed in a psychiatric hospital for H.K., the lawsuit notes.

The Kolstads’ argue they, too, were supportive of finding a psychiatric bed for the teen — as long as it was in Montana because they feared out-of-state medical professionals might start the transition process.

The couple believed Montana banned medical support for teens looking to transition given the issue is still being litigated in state courts, according to the suit.

They claim state officials switched the plans at the last minute and moved H.K. to a psychiatric treatment center in neighboring Wyoming against their wishes and banned them from contacting the teen.

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The state agency didn’t immediately respond to The Post’s request for comment about the litigation.

The lawsuit comes after the case spilled into the public realm earlier this year when Gov. Greg Gianforte ordered Lieutenant Governor Kristen Juras to carry out a review of the case.

The couple said they refused the teen’s request because of their strong religious beliefs. Todd Kolstad / Facebook

Gianforte, a Republican, later backed the social workers after Juras’ probe found “the court have followed state policy and law in their handling of this tragic case.”

In a statement to The Post, Gianforte’s office stressed the state doesn’t remove minors from homes to provide gender transition services or use public funds to pay for those services while a minor is in the state’s custody.

“As outlined in its statement of purpose, Child Protective Services protects children who have been or are at substantial risk of abuse, neglect or abandonment,” a spokesperson said at the time.

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H.K. currently resides with his biological mother in her native Canada.



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Legislators support of Montana Great Outdoors Project

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Legislators support of Montana Great Outdoors Project



The following was submitted as formal public comment to Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks:

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As Republican legislators representing Northwest Montana and the western edge of our state, we write to express our full support for the Montana Great Outdoors Project.

The draft environmental assessment for Phase 1 of the conservation easement clearly illustrates not only that this proposal is the right move for conservation and the environment, but it’s also essential to protect good jobs and the Montana way of life, as well as preserve the very character of Northwest Montana.

Much of the land between Kalispell and Libby has been owned by a rotating set of timber companies for generations. Those companies have been stewards of their private property, managing the forest for its health and creating hundreds of good-paying, blue-collar Montana jobs.

They’ve also generously allowed the public to hunt, fish, and recreate on their properties. Generations of Montanans have grown up with access to these lands. It’s impossible to count how many family memories of first deer, rainy Memorial Day weekend camping trips, and mountain sunset drives would have never happened without that access.

If we lose the land to subdivision and development, we’ll never get back the magic of Northwest Montana. The Phase 1 easement will protect nearly 33,000 acres from such a generational loss.

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The Montana Great Outdoors project is a win across the board. It will keep the land in timber production as it has been historically. With recent mill closures in the Swan Valley and Missoula, it’s never been more clear that the future of forest health, wildfire prevention, and timber jobs are on the line with every land management decision.

The project will also maintain the public’s recreational access to the land and preserve the character of Northwest Montana. Population growth is putting unprecedented development pressure on our part of the state. If we do not act to save open spaces and public access, we will lose them forever.

This conservation easement will prevent that loss and ensure that future generations can hunt, fish, camp and explore the forest north of the Thompson Chain of Lakes just as their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents have.

Finally, the financial impacts of the easement are positive ones. The land will remain in private ownership and contributing property taxes; there’s no shifting of the property tax burden to homeowners.

The cost of the easement is being paid for by a combination of the landowner’s generous donation, the Forest Service, private fundraising, and state hunting license dollars. Montana taxpayers aren’t on the hook for the project.

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We are senators and representatives, elected by the people, but even more importantly we are hunters, fisherman and outdoors enthusiasts. Some of us have history in the timber industry, several have multi-generational ties to this region. Our families live here. Simply put, this is home. The proposed easement is about protecting and preserving our home. We support the Montana Great Outdoors Project.

Signatories include Sen. Greg Hertz, who represents Polson, Lakeside and Somers, and Rep. Linda Reksten, whose district includes Polson and the south half of Flathead Lake.



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Knudsen campaign says Dems' complaint doesn't specify broken law or statute • Daily Montanan

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Knudsen campaign says Dems' complaint doesn't specify broken law or statute • Daily Montanan


The campaign for Montana Attorney General Austin Knudsen has responded to a complaint filed by the executive director of the Montana Democratic Party that accuses the top law enforcement officer of campaign violations, including raising more campaign funds than allowed by law, and recruiting a primary candidate who is not qualified.

Responding to the complaint filed last week, campaign manager Jake Eaton called on Montana Commissioner of Political Practices Chris Gallus to dismiss the complaint, saying that it doesn’t mention one violation of law, and therefore the Knudsen campaign cannot respond to the allegations, which Eaton called “semi-coherent ramblings.”

“Ms. Hogan’s complaint violates the requirements of (Montana law) because the complain does not set forth a detailed description of the alleged violations, including citations to each statute and/or rule that is alleged to be violated,” the response letter said.

The Commissioner of Political Practices has yet to rule on the matter, and, as of Wednesday afternoon, was still awaiting a response from Knudsen’s primary opponent, Daniels County Attorney Logan Olson, whom Hogan also filed a complaint against.

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Those complaints are similar and connected.

Hogan’s letter cites a portion of Montana law that governs donations to statewide political candidates. In her letter, Hogan asks the Commissioner to declare that Olson doesn’t meet the qualifications for running for Montana Attorney General, which requires candidates to have been practicing law for five years by Election Day.

According to his website and a records check with the University of Montana, Olson graduated from law school in 2020, although some courts have counted time in law school toward the requirement.

Hogan alleges that Knudsen started collecting campaign funds for both the primary and the general election before he had a challenger. Moreover, when Olson filed on the last day of eligibility, he wasn’t qualified, the complaint alleges.

In her complaint, Hogan asks the Commissioner of Political Practice to strike Olson’s name from the ballot and force Knudsen to return excessive funds because he was ineligible for office.

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However, in his response, Knudsen’s campaign said that many Democratic candidates for office start raising money in anticipation of an opponent, as Knudsen has done.

“If the commissioner accepts Ms. Hogan’s new interpretation of 13-37-216(6), please notify me right away so I may file complaints against those candidates as well,” Eaton said in his response.

Barbecue in Dillon

Knudsen’s complaint is silent about remarks he made at a May 11 barbecue to meet candidates in Dillon. During the event, where Knudsen was featured as a guest, the attorney general told the crowd that he recruited Olson to run against in him in the primary so that he could raise more money, according to a recording obtained by the Daily Montanan.

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Moreover, Knudsen said that Olson wasn’t planning on running a campaign, and said that he had recruited him so that the incumbent Republican attorney general could raise more funds, calling Montana campaign finance law “ridiculous.”

Montana law places limits on how much candidates running unopposed can raise. It also prohibits enticing another candidate to run for office for financial gain.

Hogan-v-Knudsen1
AFM-Response



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