Once mundane and nonpartisan, school board elections are becoming increasingly contentious across the country as partisan divisions in Congress reach into the smallest of communities. Few places display this better than in Douglas County, Colorado, where recent national debates about race and the Covid-19 virus have turned the local race into a war for the soul of a single school district.
The race, which attracted money from wealthy donors, turned sleepy school board meetings into heated debates as parents, students and other attendees spend hours fighting over masking policies and equity initiatives in the district.
Just south of Denver, the Douglas County School District is home to 64,000 students. The school board election, which ends on Tuesday, features a slate of four candidates — Mike Peterson, Becky Myers, Kylie Weingar and Kristi Williams — who have billed themselves as the conservative choice in a nonpartisan election. On the other side is a similarly organized card of four candidates – Christa Holtzman, Kevin Leung, Julie Watkins and Robbie Martinez – who have rallied together in opposition. None of the right-leaning competitors are currently sitting on the board, while Holtzmann and Leung hold the position.
“I think I once voted for a school board candidate because I loved the way their name sounded,” Holly Osborne Horne, campaign manager for conservative candidates, told NBC News. “Because I didn’t care. I’m fully awake now.”
“Douglas County, just like many other places across this country, is an exact replica of what’s happening nationally,” she explained. “Just as this country is very divided, you also find it in your local areas. And it is kind of divided on the same issues.”
In the first elections since the defeat of former President Donald Trump, local races like these have revitalized the conservative movement. At Republican rallies and events across the country, speakers often call in attendees to make sure they vote in their school board races—or run themselves—as they seek to thwart progressive ideas locally and keep voters engaged.
In Douglas County, where Trump defeated President Joe Biden last fall by more than 7 points, those efforts may soon pay off with a victory that would reshape the board’s majority and have a long-term impact on society.
The conservative card is backed by local and state Republican parties, as well as national groups such as 1776 Project Buckthat opposes anti-racist education. They were too Large syringe booster of funding from high-income donors, bringing in more than $300,000 and nearly tripling the amount of money raised by their opponents. Much of it came from a small group of people, including Eric Jarrett, the local real estate CEO, Mike Slattery, another local businessman, and R Stanton Dodge, chief legal advisor to DraftKings, the sports and fantasy betting site.
Richard Martyr, president-elect of the Colorado School Boards Association, told NBC News that a fundraiser of this magnitude is “quite unusual” for a school board race.
“The race was tough from a perspective of hearing a lot of misinformation in our community,” Martinez said. “And I feel like a lot of people in our community fight and argue about some things that don’t even exist.”
Tensions flared during the meeting Tuesday evening, Hours later, a federal judge It temporarily blocked an order from the new county health board that allowed people to opt out of mandatory school concealment, and align with the district.
Attendees accused the board members of being sociopaths and tyrants, adding that if they could not deal with such criticism they should resign immediately. Disagreements broke out among the public. Time and time again, Chairman David Ray told the audience not to clap or cheer because that, as he once said, “makes it an unsafe environment for someone with a different perspective.”
One woman spoke, wearing a T-shirt with a mask inside a red circle punctuated by a line, with the caption, “A child in a mask is an abused child.” Her comments were later followed by a woman wearing a T-shirt that read “Vaccinated – but still wearing my mask”. “Make no mistake, critical race theory—sorry, equality—is one of the most racist things I’ve ever heard,” said a female student speaking, while a male colleague argued for the importance of equity initiatives for students who were not in a straight white majority.
With points of contention simmering between residents and board members, the two current candidates have expressed concerns about their personal safety. Last week, Leung, one of the two board members who was re-elected, Submit a report to the police After he said he was subjected to a racist attack in an election forum.
Increased threats against school board members, teachers and other staff have resulted in Ministry of Justice It announced earlier this month that it would study these threats more closely.
Discussions about race in schools have been frequent in Douglas County throughout the year, with diversity and inclusion training wrongly mixed with critical race theory—a graduate-level study looking at how racism is embedded in modern institutions.
The district in May pulled out of an agreement with The Gemini Group, a company hired to hold a two-day stock summit for the school’s employees, after backlashing to comments made by the company’s founders at a workshop in April.
At the April workshop on Zoom, Dante and Christina James spoke about institutional racism and urged teachers to re-examine the narratives traditionally taught in American elementary schools.
Was manifest destiny a great way to conquer the West? asked Dante James. “Or was it genocide?”
Some parents were outraged by James’ remarks and the conservative school board used the training as an example of what they described as going too far.
Among them is Deborah Flora, a conservative local radio presenter who now runs Parents United America and Recently launched an attempt by the Senate Senator Michael Bennett is challenging a Colo Democrat.
“We want to teach slavery, we want children to learn what happened, Jim Crow laws and why America went to war with itself to end slavery and all of that,” she said. “That’s not what we’re talking about, when you tell a child that because of a fixed characteristic they should be ashamed of those fixed characteristics, and that they are unjust.”
Brett Miles, executive director of the Colorado Association of School Executives, defended the program and said it had nothing to do with critical race theory. Its purpose, he said, is to tailor educational resources to students’ unique circumstances and to ensure equal access to the classroom.
Equity policy has nothing to do with critical race theory. “They are two completely different things,” said Watkins, one of the school board candidates running against the conservative slate. “Teaching history as it happens, even with all its ugliness, is crucial to educating people.”
“I think it’s a natural human tendency to try, you know, to ignore things that aren’t pleasing,” she added. “But I think we’re at that point where it’s time to at least acknowledge some of the ugly things that have happened.”