After election, political tensions still flare during Cherry Creek board meeting

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AURORA | Fewer speakers showed up for public comment at Cherry Creek school board’s first meeting following the election than at some earlier meetings, but divisions among the community were just as apparent.

In last week’s school board election, Kelly Bates was elected to serve a second term as District D director and Kristin Allan was elected to District E, replacing term-limited board president Karen Fisher. Allan will be sworn in in late November after the election results are certified on Nov. 19.

Bates’ challengers in District D, Schumé Navarro and Jennifer Gibbons, both spoke during public comment along with about a dozen other people.

Some speakers congratulated Bates and Allan for their victories, while others leveled harsh critique at them or the district as a whole. Several speakers expressed disappointment that partisan politics were still consuming discussions about the board.

“I was excited tonight to think that we were ready to put politics behind us and focus on our students and meeting their needs, but that may not be the case yet,” one teacher who spoke said.

Gibbons, who received about 33% of the vote, thanked everyone who supported her campaign and called the election “a step backward” for the district.

“There were mistakes and I would do some things differently, but I never lied, never took money from any group with a vested interest or spoke ill of any individual or group,” she said.

Gibbons falsely stated at a campaign forum that she had never heard of conservative political group FEC United, despite filling out a voter survey for them beforehand. She told the Sentinel that she had forgotten about the survey during the forum and rejected their endorsement.

Navarro spent her time criticizing a book that she said she found in a district library that she claimed had inappropriate sexual content. Scrutinizing school libraries has become a common tactic among conservative activists, with Texas Gov. Greg Abbot demanding that state agencies clear school libraries of “pornographic” books. Many of the books garnering complaints nationwide contain sexual content or focus on LGBTQ issues. 

Another man who spoke brought a printed copy of the dissertation of one of the district’s assistant superintendents, claiming that it was evidence that the district taught critical race theory to students (district officials have said previously that it does not).  

Actual business discussed during the meeting veered toward mundane: board members listened to a presentation about the district’s progress on career and technical education (CTE). In the 2021-2022 school year over 21,000 students are enrolled in a CTE pathway, which includes business, health sciences and information technology.

The Cherry Creek Innovation Campus, which opened in 2019, is getting close to reaching enrollment capacity, according to the district. One of the school’s most popular pathways is the CNA track, which district officials hope will help address the state’s healthcare worker shortage.

The next board meeting is scheduled for Monday, Dec. 13 at Prairie Middle School. 

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