APS board statement distances itself from board member Wildman’s comments after allegations of racist slant

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AURORA | The APS board appears to want to distance itself from the controversy surrounding one of its board members and accusations of racism.

Board Director Cathy Wildman has come under fire for what some referred to as racist comments she made while discussing undocumented immigration at a May 16 meeting. Wildman made the comments before the board approved a resolution directing the school district to make plans to push back against federal immigration requests for information about the citizenship status of students or their families.

Wildman and the rest of the board unanimously approved the resolution. But at a June 6 meeting, two current and one former APS students accused Wildman of racism and stoking fears about immigrants. Wildman has denied the accusations and called them politically motivated.

No board members spoke about the incident or Wildman’s comments during that June 6 meeting. But Board President Amber Drevon two days later sent the Aurora Sentinel a statement from the board responding to an article on the controversy.

The statement makes clear that comments made by any one member do not reflect the opinion of the entire board. It wasn’t clear right away how the board decided to issue the statement since no formal vote was held  and there hadn’t been a public meeting of the board since June 6.

Drevon, in an email after the statement was sent, said: “As board president I’m authorized to speak on behalf of the board. Board members make their sentiments known to me through individual conversations.”

But an emailed question asking Drevon who started the conversation was not returned.

After the statement was released, Wildman said in a phone interview that she understood why the board decided to issue it. She continued to defend her remarks as being misunderstood and insisted her issues with illegal immigration shouldn’t be confused for being anti-immigrant. But, in retrospect, Wildman said she should have stuck with data on illegal immigration instead of citing the personal experience of her sister and nieces in Arizona.

Wildman in the phone interview cited information about crime relating to illegal immigration that she said she found on Wikipedia, but which came originally from the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit that advocates for lower immigration numbers in the United States. The group has come under fire from critics including the Southern Poverty Law Center, which has labeled it an anti-immigrant hate group.

“I still believe that what I was saying was misconstrued and people are trying to stir the pot. (The backlash) is political regardless of what you want to say,” Wildman said. “People who truly know me know I’m none of the things I have been labeled as. I was strictly trying to make a point.”

Wildman said she takes issue with her comments about illegal immigration being used to say she is anti-immigrant, a charge she categorically denies. She said both during the June 6 meeting and in a subsequent interview with the Sentinel that her issue is with the “broken immigration” system and not the children brought to this country by their parents illegally.

Drevon’s full statement reads:

The Aurora Public Schools Board of Education values holding open conversations with our community. The Board is comprised of individual members who are entitled to voice their own opinions. We voted unanimously on May 16, 2017 to pass “A Resolution to Reaffirm Aurora Public Schools’ Inclusive Practices and Beliefs for all Students Regardless of Documentation Status”. The vote and text of the resolution, not the comments of any one member, speak to the Board’s commitment to upholding the policies, core beliefs and practices already in place to support our immigrant and refugee families. Our focus remains on providing the best educational opportunities for every APS student.