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The three R’s that don’t belong in school board races: religion, racism, radical politics

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October 13, 2021, 12:31 pm

Eleven candidates are running for five open seats on the Eagle County Schools Board of Education in the Nov. 2 election, and mail-in ballots were sent out Oct. 8 (if you don’t have yours by Oct. 15, check your registration status and/or contact the Eagle County clerk and recorder).

I’m voting for the Vote Smart x5 Community Coalition Candidates: Kelly Alter, Lelia Conlin, Juan Peña, Michelle Stecher and Dan Reynolds, and I respectfully urge others to do so as well. Go to eaglecountyschoolboard.com for more info.

This is a critical race, in some ways about critical race (more on that later), and it comes in an election that is typically ignored. As one observer recently said, “You used to have to drag school board candidates down to Gypsum kicking and screaming.”

That’s because these seats are unpaid, unglamorous, volunteer positions that offer the chance for some very heated criticism from overheated parents, administrators and teachers.

You’re also tasked with scraping together education funding in a chronically underfunded county in a state that is the poster child for failing to fund its public schools (thanks TABOR, Gallagher and the Public School Finance Act).

So why is this school board election different? Why is there so much interest in seats that are usually hard to fill?

Because, as part of a national right-wing Republican strategy, partisan politics, religion, racism and attacks on government, science and public health have been injected into formerly nonpartisan, apolitical school board races nationally … and now locally.

This group, whose name I won’t publicize and whose vile ideas I won’t repeat, is backing a slate of candidates whose names I won’t publish – people I’ve seen with my own eyes defying mask requirements at school events during a global pandemic.

The O Zone by David O. Williams
The O. Zone

They are comprised of what I would consider evangelical Christians, homeschoolers and backers of our U.S. congresswoman (for part of the county), who has embarrassed our state as a supporter of QAnon, white supremacists, Capitol insurrectionists and ignoring public health and epidemiology.

They are some of the same folks who comprised part of an unruly mob that made life living hell for current school board members with less than a week to go last school year, bemoaning their loss of personal freedoms because mask rules were kept in place.

Trust me, as the father of a son who graduated in the Class of ’21, very few of his classmates were complaining about masks or vaccines. They would have done anything to learn in person, slow the pandemic and keep classmates safe, and that’s exactly what the school district has accomplished brilliantly this year, despite staffing challenges and opposition from an unhinged minority of parents. 

Now that unhinged minority is running for school board, and several good sources tell me there is a cadre within the Vail Church that wants to fly in the face of science and defy masks and COVID-19 vaccines. The sad results of that approach were made public by the family of Meghan Mearns, an unvaccinated and far-too-young Vail Health worker and Vail Church attendee who died this past summer from COVID-19.

Our current school board has followed the recommendations of county, state and federal scientists and doctors in setting mask and vaccine policies. Do we really want school board members trying to influence public health policies for our children based on their religious beliefs?

The opposition candidates have used code in their campaigning, emphasizing reading, writing and arithmetic, which sounds very pragmatic on the surface. But science and the arts are not included in their code, and their obsession with the basics ignores the reality of our diverse student body, 60% of which is comprised of English as a Second Language (ESL) kids from Mexico and other countries.

As the parents of two Battle Mountain High School graduates, with a third son currently at the school, my wife and I celebrate that diversity and think it makes us stronger as a community and a global resort destination. We reject the implied anti-immigrant racism of the three R’s crowd.

These religious zealots also use the code “sexual exploitation” in describing our school system, which, of course, none of us would want, if it was actually happening. What it really means is they oppose inclusiveness for the LGBTQ community, as they made very clear in their opposition to rainbow flags in Avon.

My family supports that community and forcefully rejects that sort of dangerous, bigoted, fundamentalist thinking in our schools, or anywhere else in our society.

We also reject the blatant politicization of school board races by the national and Colorado Republican Party. While there are candidates from multiple parties on the Vote Smart x5 slate, it doesn’t matter, because these are nonpartisan, volunteer seats.

In right-wing enclaves such as El Paso County (think Focus on the Family Colorado Springs), school board candidates are being given the election-denier, pro-Trump litmus test, while the GOP’s gubernatorial frontrunner and sole statewide elected Republican, CU Regent Heidi Ganahl, is clearly an advocate of radicalizing school board candidates and politicizing boards of education, even at the higher-education level. She opposed CU’s vaccine mandate and has made the whitewashing of U.S. history a priority as well.

All of this would just be sad if it wasn’t so scary, because just below the surface in the new Republican Party approach is the threat of violence against public servants, teachers, health care workers, police and others – all in support of authoritarianism and opposition to democracy.

The same national trend is baked into the Avon recall election as well, where, if I could vote, I would vote no and reject the anti-government fringe in my neighboring town that wants to simply remove two hardworking public servants for no real reason and is too cowardly, lazy or both to offer up replacement candidates.

As I’ve stated many times in the past, moderating forces in both dominant political parties locally, statewide and nationally need to step up to reject the rhetoric, turn down the temperature and return sanity to an increasingly insane political process.

Otherwise, what happened in my parents’ former home in Grand County will happen here, the forces that shaped those events will grow stronger, and what happened on Jan. 6 in Washington will happen again (only worse) in 2022, 2024 or beyond.

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David O. Williams

Managing Editor at RealVail
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance reporter based in the Vail Valley of Colorado, writing on health care, immigration, politics, the environment, energy, public lands, outdoor recreation and sports. His work has appeared in 5280 Magazine, American Way Magazine (American Airlines), the Anchorage Daily News (Alaska), Aspen Daily News, Aspen Journalism, the Aspen Times, Beaver Creek Magazine, the Chicago Tribune, the Colorado Independent (formerly Colorado Confidential), Colorado Politics (formerly the Colorado Statesman), Colorado Public News, the Colorado Springs Gazette, the Colorado Springs Independent, the Colorado Statesman (now Colorado Politics), the Colorado Times Recorder, the Daily Trail (Vail), the Denver Daily News, the Denver Gazette, the Denver Post, the Durango Herald, the Eagle Valley Enterprise, the Eastside Journal (Bellevue, Washington), ESPN.com, the Glenwood Springs Post-Independent, the Greeley Tribune, the Huffington Post, the King County Journal (Seattle, Washington), KUNC.org (northern Colorado), LA Weekly, the London Daily Mirror, the Montgomery Journal (Maryland), The New York Times, the Parent’s Handbook, Peaks Magazine (now Epic Life), People Magazine, Powder Magazine, the Pueblo Chieftain, PT Magazine, Rocky Mountain Golf Magazine, the Rocky Mountain News, Atlantic Media's RouteFifty.com (formerly Government Executive State and Local), SKI Magazine, Ski Area Management, SKIING Magazine, the Summit Daily News, United Hemispheres (United Airlines), Vail/Beaver Creek Magazine, Vail en Español, Vail Valley Magazine, the Vail Daily, the Vail Trail and Westword (Denver). Williams is also the founder, publisher and editor of RealVail.com and RockyMountainPost.com.

One Response to The three R’s that don’t belong in school board races: religion, racism, radical politics

  1. Andrew Keiser Reply

    October 17, 2021 at 11:10 am

    The history of mankind has demonstrated a remarkable tendency to confront the chaos of our world by creating communities characterized by fear. To be sure the chaos of our existence forces us to experience death and all the associated paths that lead to death. The Covid-19 pandemic is just the latest example of communities small and large responding to the chaos with fear. While we could explore the responses of our national or state governments and observe the fear motive, let’s examine a different theme that is surfacing in the local elections of the Eagle County School Board.

    One of the chief failures of communities that respond to chaos with fear is communication. I would invite you to consider that the election of 5 school board members is highlighting communication as the most important difference between the “slates” running for these positions.

    One slate is running with a sense of fear. How can you tell? The candidates and their followers are resorting to ad hominem attacks preposterously suggesting the opposition are racists, religious zealots, and right-wing radicals instead of engaging with ideas that challenge their worldview. This conveys an arrogance that impedes communication and unnecessarily furthers the divide that naturally exists between people who disagree.

    On the other hand, mankind has always had the choice to respond to the chaos of the world by creating communities of faith. I’m not speaking of a specific religious faith, but of a belief that we can create communities that believe in each other – and for each other. The goal of these communities isn’t uniformity – where everyone has to believe the same thing – but unity that embraces not just the diversity of intersectionality, but also the unity that can come from opposing views respecting the process and value of synthesis that comes in relationship with one another.

    So, once again, this community has a choice to make. Do you want to create a community characterized by fear that cancels out the views of the opposition or do you want to create a community characterized by faith that each person brings a valuable insight that can contribute to a better learning environment for the children?

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