Bruell column: Giving thanks to local champions of equality and inclusion
In this month of Thanksgiving, I feel so grateful to live in a community that actively defends the core American belief that we are all created equal.
A diverse group of Garfield Re-2 School District community members and teachers have come together recently to safeguard the idea that all of us — of every race, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation, and gender identity — deserve to be honored and respected for who we are.
Last spring, Re-2 School Board President Tony May introduced measures mirroring the undemocratic actions of the Woodland Park (WP) School Board — actions which have led about 40% of their school staff to resign.
The WP school board was taken over in November 2021 by a slate of candidates backed by the Truth & Liberty Coalition, which advocates for abstinence-only sex education, forbidding students aged 12-18 access to mental health services without full disclosure to their parents, and banning teaching about the privileges held by white people in our country compared to people of color.
Truth & Liberty’s founder, Andrew Wommack, is also the president of WP’s unaccredited evangelical bible school Charis and the founder of Andrew Wommack Ministries, which spans 18 countries and generated over $100 million in revenue in 2021.
Wommack proselytizes that being gay is “one of the major threats of the devil” and that Americans who oppose Trump are victims of a “demonic deception.” Rep. Lauren Boebert, an adherent of Wommack, explained to his followers that engaging in politics is key to “ushering in the second coming of Jesus.”
Seven months after Wommack stated, “We ought to take over Woodland Park,” the candidates he backed were elected to the WP school board.
The new board has banned books, eliminated 15 mental health positions, forbid teachers from speaking publicly about the schools, fired teachers for speaking out, berated teachers for having a “psycho agenda,” and recruited a charter organization to take over a school that had just won the Governor’s Award for Distinguished Improvement.
The WP board is the only one in the nation to adopt the American Birthright Standards (ABS), which explicitly opposes “current events learning…media literacy…and virtually any pedagogy that claims to promote ‘diversity, equity, and inclusion’ or ‘social justice.” ABS advocates for the federal government to “withdraw from regulating or funding any aspect of K-12 education.”
Despite this anti-teacher, anti-public school agenda, Re-2’s Tony May has pledged to follow their lead. “I too am a Patriot,” May wrote to a WP school board member, praising their board for supposedly rescuing the district “from the clutches of socialists.”
May introduced a resolution against the state’s mental health services that copied WP’s resolution almost word for word. He also pushed Re-2 to adopt ABS.
Fortunately, the Re-2 community has pushed back. Dozens of community members have attended school board meetings to share their concerns that ABS provides a false, whitewashed version of history; erases the contributions of people of color; and emphasizes memorization over critical thinking.
Latino graduates of the Re-2 schools have argued that without standards that “acknowledge and represent the student body,” which is about 55% Latino, we won’t stop the kind of bullying they experienced as kids in Re-2 schools.
Through the amazing organizing of Re-2 community members and the willingness of so many to participate in the district’s standards review committee, working through their differences to discover their shared values, the community convinced the board to adopt the state standards over ABS; May cast the sole dissenting vote.
WP has seen similar successes. Eighty-one teachers and staff members bravely defied their district’s gag order by signing a petition and organizing a press conference; the teachers union sued the district for violating teachers’ first amendment right – and the district withdrew the policy.
Diverse community members are finding common ground in their desire to return to commonsense school priorities. WP parent Joe Dohrn, a self-described “life-long conservative,” narrated a campaign ad to oust WP board members. Rifle parent Angela Strode told May that his “outlandish” push for ABS has actually brought Democrats, Republicans, and Independents together as they seek to prioritize student learning. “People from across the spectrum are now united in our community,” Strode said.
This coalition is now working to recall May for being unfit for office. The three-member Recall Committee consists of one Republican, one Democrat, and one Unaffiliated voter; one member is Latina and one is an Re-2 teacher. All have children in district schools.
The struggle in Re-2 is far from over. The new board could underhandedly adopt ABS as a “curriculum” rather than standards.
Thank you to the courageous community members and teachers in Re-2 who continue to stand up for equality and inclusion. To learn more about the recall effort or sign the petition, visit http://www.re2schoolboard.com or email the Coalition for Responsible Education in Re-2 at email@example.com.
Debbie Bruell of Carbondale chairs the Garfield County Democrats and is a past member of the Roaring Fork Schools Board of Education.
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