Greeley students, teacher under fire after fracking protest
GREELEY — Greeley-Evans School District 6 leaders are questioning the judgment of staff and students at Jefferson High School after several students were photographed Thursday holding anti-fracking protest signs during a school-sponsored trip to a Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force meeting.
District 6 Board of Education member Steve Hall, who owns the oil and gas service company Trinity Energy Solutions Inc., brought his concerns before fellow board members and district administrators during a Friday work session.
Hall didn’t see the incident, but Weld County Commissioner Sean Conway told Hall about the students’ actions when Hall arrived Thursday afternoon at the Colorado Oil and Gas Task Force meeting.
Hall said he believes the protest was not planned. But the impromptu demonstration by Jefferson High School students demonstrated poor timing and poor judgment, Hall said. Although he’s not sure whether the incident represents a D6 policy violation, Interim Superintendent Wayne Eads agreed with Hall regarding poor judgment.
“Our team has traded a lot of discussion about this,” Eads said at the work session. “I talked with (Greeley Mayor Tom) Norton about this. It did not look good.”
Pictures of the students holding signs with messages like “Ban fracking now” circulated on Facebook and Twitter, drawing criticism online as well.
Kathi VanSoest, D6 executive director of student support services, said she talked to Jefferson High School and Principal Larry Green when she heard about the incident.
Green refused to answer questions about the incident at this time.
Early explanations suggest the students, from an environmental science and a government class at Jefferson, were working on a position paper on both sides of the fracking debate. After talking with pro-fracking protesters, the students sought out anti-fracking folks who held signs from the organization Food and Water Watch, a Washington, D.C.-based activist group that also has an office in Denver.
The group put signs in (the students’ hands),” VanSoest said “Then (the students) held the signs up for pictures. It was an error on the teacher’s part not to step in and do something about that. I will talk with the teacher again today. We do not want students demonstrating on school time.”
The teacher pictured in some of the images circulating online is Rob Liebman. He wasn’t immediately available for comment.
Food and Water Watch representatives also did not respond to request for comment.
For Hall, and many D6 administrators, what they’re calling an educational faux pas can and should become a teachable moment.
“I think that it just pointed out an area where, if we’re going to do field trips … that there’s a decorum because you are going as a student, as a teacher, you’re on public time,” Hall said.
Hall said he’d have the same opinion if students were holding pro-fracking signs.
“Either is inappropriate for the situation they’re in,” Hall said. “If they want to get out of school, go back down and hold signs all they want, God love ‘em.”
Tyler Silvy covers education for The Greeley Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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