Despite this year’s boisterous and contentious election, voters need to pay close attention to state school board races, where a potential disaster looms under the public’s overloaded radar.
Few give much thought to the Colorado Board of Education, and even fewer understand the board’s role in education.
For decades, the board has served as a sounding board among school districts for serious academic discussions about curricula, goals and standards. It has been the legal nexus among the state, the legislature, the federal department of education and local school districts. In the board’s spare time, it manages standardized testing.
But in Colorado, and in states across the country, state school boards have been gathering places for far-right political activists, working to install a wide range of religious, nationalistic and in many cases bigoted and racist doctrines into classrooms across the state.
While local school districts in Colorado wield a great deal of control of what is taught inside classrooms, make no mistake that mechanism exists in state policy allowing nefarious interests to insert all kinds of things into local schools. The danger of what’s happened in places like Florida and across much of the South, is very real here in Colorado.
Aurora’s 6th Congressional District state school board seat could be part of the solution or the problem facing Colorado.
The tactic used by nationalists and far-right activists to gain a foothold on the board is simple, tried and true. They clamor for openness in public schools and complain that “woke” or “socialist” educators are trying to usurp the role of parents.
Despite their claims, they aren’t not conservatives by any meaningful definition. They are extremist activists.
The unfounded and insidious claim is that teachers work secretly to indoctrinate children into becoming homosexuals or hating white people or choosing some undefined brand of communism over American democracy.
Even top-line Republican candidates flirt and dabble in this dangerous delusion, created to instill fear in parents that schools and educators have an agenda besides working to educate Colorado children. GOP gubernatorial challenger Heidi Ganahl has drawn deserved ridicule on her campaign by promoting the interests of these far-right activists, claiming that schools statewide are rife with children who identify as cats or “furries.”
The claim, hearkening to anti-LGTBQ campaigns, is not only debunked nuttery, it’s dangerous in that it fuels hatred toward LGTBQ students, or children of LGTBQ parents.
Despite their shrill homophobia, the law in Colorado and the nation is unequivocal. All LGTBQ citizens enjoy the same rights as every other American. The right to marry, to attend schools without fear of hatred or violence, and every other right instilled in the state and U.S. constitutions.
No differently than schools have for generations, social studies and other relevant subjects adjust to and accommodate the reflection of society. Not so long ago, schools focused “home economics” curriculum toward girls, expected to graduate school, marry men, bear children, raise them and cook and clean the home, for the rest of their lives.
Schools now offer career education for girls and boys, and girls are not only encouraged, but lifted, past a life-sentence of “home economics” with little realistic choice.
The state school board has for the past several years looked at ways to ensure that children understand, age appropriately, that Colorado communities comprise people of different races. Schools are filled with people who come from different cultures and have different sexualities. Some students have two moms, two dads, or they themselves don’t feel like they fall, at that time, into traditional boy or girl categories. These are culture wars. This is reality, and LGTBQ students and parents are openly and legally as much a part of school and society as anyone.
For several years, schools have looked closely at how we teach American history, understanding how, for generations, we’ve glossed over or ignored stunning cruelties past generations inflicted on Black slaves and then Black Americans. History studies in public schools in Colorado are nothing more than the evolving reflection of our nation’s growth in understanding and search for accuracy.
Far-right activists purposely work to conflate decades of best practices in public school education and curricula development with a focus on so-called critical race theory, which they equate to anti-white racism.
It’s a ruse, and voters acting on these empty threats actually risk bringing culture wars to public schools, anathema to quality education.
While the vast majority of voters in the Aurora region, and across the state, would reject this barbaric political ploy out of hand, these activists often couch their intentions.
It happened during Cherry Creek school board races last year, and it’s happening now in the contests for state school board.
In the CD6 state school board election, Republican challenger Molly Lamar paints herself merely as a concerned parent simply wanting to ensure that schools remain open and accountable to the community.
Lamar made clear her real intentions as an activist during an Oct. 20, 2021 interview on FoxNews. She spends several minutes on a tirade about the insertion of critical race theory in Cherry Creek schools. She talked about how parents have lost control of their children in classrooms focused on leftist brainwashing, devoid of “back-to basics” academics.
The threat to public education in Colorado isn’t academic. Just last week, the Denver Post reported an attempt by state school board Republican Debora Scheffel to throw out the state’s social studies curricula guidelines and replace them with the “American Birthright” program. It’s the same far-right dogma forced on Florida schools by Gov. Ron DeSantis.
The attempt failed on a party line vote, by only one vote.
Also last week, Chalkbeat Colorado reported an attempt by a Republic state school board member to add far-right political commentary to state history education standards by modifying touchstones for history studies.
“Over the last year and a half, Steve Durham has pushed for the state’s academic standards to connect the Holocaust and other genocides to socialism. Durham succeeded in omitting the word Nazi from an early version of the standards in favor of the party’s full name, the National Socialist German Workers Party,” Chalkbeat writes in a chilling story of how Durham was able to modify state standards, inserting far-right politics into what should be changes based on academics.
The threat by this sometimes concerted far-right effort is very real.
Incumbent state school board representative for the CD6 region, Democrat Rebecca McClellan, Lamar’s opponent, has fought against these pervasive waves of extremism for more than four years. She’s proven herself to be a strong ally of local school districts, public schools, academic achievement, equity and above all, improvement of public education for every child and family in the state.
Likewise, the candidate for a new statewide seat on the school board, Democrat Kathy Plomer, has a proven track record of pressing for progress and school accountability — and keeping politicized culture wars out of the classroom.
Plomer sat on the Adams 12 school board for two terms, most of that time as board president. She has long led the charge in a challenged school district to close the achievement gap among white students and students of color.
She knows the school system from across the spectrum, having been a leader in her own parent-teacher group as well as part of that district’s accountability committee.
Both McClellan and Plomer are trusted, transparent and known leaders who have proven records of pressing for fairness and non-politicized goals.
There is no question or doubt about who they are, what they stand for, and what they stand against.
Voters should pay close heed to this part of their lengthy 2022 ballots, voting these two trusted representatives onto the state school board, ensuring schools focus on academics and achievement, not right-wing political exploits.