AURORA | A Cherry Creek school board candidate suing the school district over its requirement that masks must be worn at candidate forums has made numerous social media posts critical of government management of the pandemic and supportive of unproven allegations of election fraud.
In the lawsuit, Cherry Creek school board hopeful Schumé Navarro claims the district is discriminating against her because she has a disability that makes it difficult for her to wear a mask.
The school district is hosting a series of six public forums for the school board candidates to discuss their campaigns and answer questions from the community. The forums are on school grounds, and masks are required to be worn by everyone in attendance.
Navarro was present at the first forum but said she was having difficulty concentrating because wearing a mask was causing her distress. After the forum, she sent a letter to the district asking for accommodations, according to a post on her campaign Facebook page.
In a lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Colorado on Monday, Navarro claims that the district is in violation of the Americans with Disabilities Act and the Rehabilitation Act for refusing to grant her an accommodation for being unable to wear a mask.
The lawsuit asks for an injunction allowing Navarro to participate in the remaining candidate forums along with fines and damages.
The lawsuit says that she is unable to wear a mask “due to a nasal deformity that makes it difficult for Mrs. Navarro to breathe even when not wearing a face covering” and “a psychological disorder stemming from severe child abuse incidents that include suffocation. This disability causes her to panic and have substantial difficulty concentrating when her mouth or nose is covered.”
Navarro is represented by Daniel Burrows of the Public Trust Institute, a conservative-leaning nonprofit “created to uphold our state’s Constitution and defend the principles of individual freedom and personal responsibility on which Colorado was founded,” according to the group’s website. The same firm represented Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman in his lawsuit against the city.
As of last week, Cherry Creek has granted 10 students and two staff members exemptions from Tri-County’s mask mandate.
Navarro frequently spoke at school board meetings over the summer to decry critical race theory and mask mandates, and a key platform of her campaign is parental choice regarding masking in schools.
“We need to respect parents and their individual rights when they provide medical letters explaining their child’s needs and not try to take those decisions away from the parent or the child’s provider,” her campaign website says. “ We are in unprecedented times, and through this, we need to preserve a parents’ right of CHOICE when it comes to medical decisions for their children.”
Navarro is the owner of Peacock Vanity, a hair and beauty salon that states on its website that the owner “has a medical exemption and will not be wearing a mask.”
She was elected secretary of the Arapahoe County GOP in the spring, and her biography on the website states that she is the creator of “Free Faced Colorado,” a private Facebook group with over 7,000 members encouraging people to reject mask mandates. Earlier this month she was given a rising star award by the Colorado GOP.
Navarro is active on social media platforms under the username “Don’t Tread on MAE,” where she has posted about her opposition to pandemic health measures and also posted unfounded allegations of voter fraud during the 2020 election.
In a post on her campaign Facebook page, she describes mask mandates as “medical tyranny.”
“Masks are medical devices that MUST be consensual!” the post said. “And we do not consent!”
In a post on her personal Facebook page implying the 2020 election was stolen, she includes the hashtags #huntingseason and #warmupthegallows.
In a video on her YouTube channel from January, she discusses being in Washington D.C. during the insurrection at the U.S. Capitol Building on Jan. 6. In the video she criticizes the media for how the insurrection was portrayed and encourages people to stop watching the news.
“It is unbiblical, and I would go so far as to say it’s a sin honestly to partner with mainstream news at this point,” she says in the video.
At press time, Navarro had not responded to requests for comment from The Sentinel. She is running for the District D school board seat, against Jennifer Gibbons and incumbent Kelly Bates.
Cherry Creek spokesperson Abbe Smith told The Sentinel that the district disputes Navarro’s allegations and plans to vigorously defend itself.
Colorado-based polling firm Magellan Strategies CEO David Flaherty told The Sentinel that it’s unsurprising that some candidates are capitalizing on hot-button issues such as public health mandates and critical race theory, but that “it’s a turnout message more than something that will persuade voters.”
The firm released the results of a survey in August showing that Colorado parents are very divided on issues such as whether schools should mandate masks, require teachers to be vaccinated or discuss critical race theory.
Unaffiliated voters in particular, which make up a majority of Colorado’s electorate, are “very evenly split,” on those issues, Flaterhy said. However, in off-year elections Flaherty said that voters tend to be older and unaffiliated participation usually lags.
He said he’s curious to see whether Republicans can capitalize on parental frustration with school boards in this election, particularly in Douglas County, where debates over masking have been even more contentious than in Cherry Creek. Until the pandemic is a thing of the past, he said public health measures will continue to be a wedge issue for politicians.
“Until covid is no longer an issue, it’s part of a cultural debate,” Flaherty said. “It’s not going to go away.”