Generally, in local elections, there are only reasons for everyone to choose the candidate that best represents them, without worry that an opponent instead represents a real threat.
The race for the Cherry Creek Schools board isn’t one of those occasions.
Instead, unsure Cherry Creek Schools District electors need to vote against District D candidate Jennifer Gibbons, who has, at best, been disingenuous about who she is and her intentions if elected.
Two weeks ago, in a Sentinel Colorado endorsement in the District D race for Cherry Creek schools board, we suggested voters choose incumbent Kelly Bates. We recommended then, and now, Bates for her steady and common-sense support of a school district that strives for excellence and equity for all students and families.
The Sentinel questioned Gibbons’ positions on touting her role in leading a local charter school and her lack of temerity to push back against pseudoscience and conspiracy theorists creating a controversy over critical race theory, when there is none.
This week, a story by Sentinel reporter Carina Julig made clear Gibbons has erroneously related her association with an extremist group that presents a very real and grave danger to public education, the Cherry Creek schools district, and minority students and their families in particular.
At issue now is a candidate survey completed by Gibbons for the Colorado extremist group FEC United. FEC stands for “faith, education and commerce.”
During an Oct. 7 school-district sponsored candidate forum, Gibbons was asked her assessment of being endorsed by FEC for a school board post. She asked the moderator who FEC was, saying she’d never heard of it. She then dismissed the question as trivial, saying that, whoever they are, she hoped they vote for her.
Gibbons said, “I’m a person who speaks accurately, and I can tell you I don’t know what that is, and I didn’t know that they endorsed me,” she continued.
When confronted by The Sentinel this week with campaign policy information she supplied to the FEC and accusations tying her to the group, Gibbons backtracked.
“When I got the FEC survey in September, I looked them up and saw that my son’s soccer coach (from about 10 years ago) was affiliated with the group. I reached out to him to find out more, and he never responded. I took the survey and did not revisit it.”
The coach is Joe Oltman, who founded the group. He’s a vocal conspiracy theorist promoting the debunked, false notion that widespread voter fraud stole the presidential election from Donald Trump. He also insists that mask mandates, to curb the pandemic, are government overreach. Oltman is currently being sued for defamation by an employee of Dominion, a Colorado voting machine company.
Oltman and his FEC group also promote a militia branch called “American Defense Force.” Numerous militia members appeared outside a June school board meeting where more than 100 people turned out to protest against teaching critical race theory in local schools, another debunked conspiracy theory.
In a tepid rebuke this week, Gibbons said she does not support groups that use the threat of physical force in pursuing an agenda, however, “I do not disagree with the FEC coming together and doing good in their community (which is what I thought when I visited their website).”
There’s little ambiguity in the group’s website nor the answers she provided the FEC.
“We have witnessed our health system weaponized against us, censorship of opposing views, and our own government barring citizens from life-saving medications,” the website states about the group’s purpose.
The website, and Gibbons’ response to its survey, are filled with endless alarming racist and militant dog whistles and overt cues, similar to those parroted among other conspiracy groups. Gibbons coyness suggests concealment, not naiveté.
“We need to change the way in which controversial subjects are presented,” Gibbons told FEC United. “According to CCSDs own policies, if both sides are not presented, it is considered indoctrination. For example, no one would disagree that Black Lives Matter (sic), but many people think the BLM movement has not been good for our community, thus making it a controversial subject. Unfortunately, both sides of this are not being taught in classrooms, and parents are not happy.”
This hearkens back to the tactics of Holocaust deniers and teaching “both sides” of the Holocaust.
In looking closely at a range of social studies curricula in Cherry Creek and elsewhere, topics such as racism are explored fully, academically and respectfully. We have not seen any concerted effort to promote anything other than learning on this and other “controversial” topics.
Gibbons’ tactic, however, has long been tied to efforts among nationalistic and supremacist groups as dogwhistle efforts to integrate their own agendas inside public schools. It includes recent and local efforts to force posting the biblical Ten Commandments inside classrooms, discriminate against transgender students and promote a political philosophy disguised as curricula.
Most worrisome, was Gibbons’ idea to have the school district judge parents as failed. “…if the child does not have access to a responsible adult, a mentor should be assigned,” Gibbons wrote. “I know many people in the community who would love to participate in a mentorship program.”
Schools must do everything they can to help all families, especially those who struggle for whatever reason. The notion, however, of a school determining whether a parent is a “responsible adult,” and should be supplanted with a mentor, presumably approved by FEC United or similar groups, is chilling.
Unfortunately for voters, one of three candidates for this race is even more disconcerting than Gibbons. Candidate Shumé Navarro is unequivocally unqualified for the job, having linked herself to a wealth of conspiracy theories and gruesome bigoted expressions filmed on her own Youtube channel she calls, “Don’t Tread on Mae.”
Only candidate Kelly Bates provides a sound and sensible position on how Cherry Creek schools can equitably, safely and soundly support and represent all Cherry Creek students and their families.