An uprising by parents in key school board races across the state Tuesday has opened the schoolhouse doors to fresh thinking, needed reforms — and new hope for many Colorado kids. Voters in those districts toppled an elected hierarchy that to varying degrees was bureaucratic; out-of-touch; passive about declining achievement; averse to reform — and most maddening of all, unresponsive or even hostile to concerned parents. Tuesday’s remarkable turnabout now sets the stage for big things to happen once the new board members take their seats.
That encouraging Election Day outcome contrasted sharply with the results of balloting in some other Colorado districts, including some of the state’s largest, where union-backed boards maintained or even tightened their chokehold on local schools.
The outlook in those districts is a lot less bright. That’s especially so as children statewide struggle to recover from the effects of “remote learning” amid a pandemic. Achievement scores not surprisingly have taken a nosedive, and students need triage right now — not more business as usual.
Among the places voters embraced change, ushering in new, pro-parent school board majorities, are Colorado Springs’ largest, School District 11; the Denver metro area’s Douglas County School District — the state’s third largest; Mesa County Valley School District 51 in Grand Junction; Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs, and Weld County School District 6 in Greeley. It pretty much crisscrosses the most populated areas of the state.
The up-front catalysts for the parents’ rebellion in Colorado — as across the country — include deep and growing misgivings among the voting public about the teaching of critical race theory.
It distorts U.S. history and arguably propagandizes students. Alongside that is the mounting debate over what measures school districts should, and shouldn’t, take in response to the pandemic. Parents were growing weary of seemingly gratuitous mask mandates and quarantines, among other restrictions hobbling their children’s development.
Such points of contention tend to divide Coloradans along ideological and partisan lines, so it’s no surprise the districts where parents flipped board majorities are in Republican strongholds.
Underlying the back-and-forth over face masks, vaccinations and allegations of “systemic racism” is another profound concern shared by an even broader swath of parents. That concern is that they simply aren’t being listened to, no matter what issue is on the table. And that concern spans the political spectrum.
Gazette and Colorado Politics columnist Jimmy Sengenberger captured the resentment that has been simmering — and that came to a head this week — in his Wednesday column for Colorado Politics.
“Douglas County parents rose up big time. They rebuked the teachers union and defeated the status quo by electing the four-candidate “DSCD Kids First” slate,” Sengenberger wrote.
“They collectively tapped into intense frustrations over school closures, remote learning failures and unscientific classroom mask mandates. Moms and dads have seen their children suffer academically and mentally for far too long, feeling like they had no recourse. But Tuesday, they had the chance to do something about it. And they did.”
As the campaign manager for the successful Douglas County reform candidates told Sengenberger: “Parents and community members feel it is time to get back to the basics of educating our kids first and that parents must have a seat at the table to join the conversation surrounding their child’s education.”
Unfortunately, Tuesday’s contests in some big districts such as Denver Public Schools — the state’s largest — and No. 2 Jefferson County Schools only reinforced the status quo. Candidates backed by the usual cash infusions and second-to-none political network of the unions in most cases cruised to victory.
It is unlikely those parents are any more complacent than their counterparts in the Douglas or Greeley or Colorado Springs or Grand Junction schools. Maybe they simply haven’t found their voice, yet?
Consider Denver. Crime on campus is soaring after an absurd policy lurch left 18 district schools without highly effective school resource officers — Denver police who had been assigned to the school district. And as across much of Colorado, student achievement has been plummeting in the district since the pandemic.
Meanwhile, one board member continues to serve without a hint of remorse or a trace of irony after a slap-on-the-wrist “censure” by the board for repeated sexual harassment — of underage students — via social media. Clearly, there is a chasm between the Denver school board and the district’s parents.
Is it only a matter of time before they, too, rise up?
Ready Colorado — an education-reform advocacy group whose political committee supported reform candidates — issued a statement the day after the election putting the results in perspective.
“In all of these races, the majority of the winning candidates were parents,” Ready Colorado noted.
“When you close schools for so long, doing tremendous damage to student learning and harming families in the process, there is bound to be a reaction. The consequences of school closures and ignoring parents’ voices manifested last night. Parents roared.”