School Board Protests Continue to Rock District

Silhouette group of people Raised Fist and Protest Signs in yellow evening sky background

Rick Langenberg

The Woodland Park RE-2 District School Board held another special meeting last week, capped by more political drama, emotional angst, and the appointment of a new member and familiar political face to fill a vacancy.

Following much discussion, Nick Bates, a well-known leader of the Teller GOP Party and community figure in Divide, got the nod. He was chosen over contenders Seth Bryant and Don Zaleski.

This appointment, though, prompted an outcry from many parents and teachers, according to KRDO television report and video footage aired at the meeting. A group of parents  believe this is adding gasoline to the raging flames, arguing that the current board is pursuing changes to adopt a more politically-conservative agenda, and are forcing qualified teachers and administrators to leave. The district has been bombarded by a series of student walk-outs and protests.

Proponents of the board, though, say the new changes are needed to follow a push for more reform and parental choice, and cite the results of the Nov. 2021 election, when a more conservative slate of GOP candidates were voted into office in often convincing fashion.

The appointment of Bates follows on the heels of action to accommodate the needs of the Merit Academy, a charter school that  now shares space at RE-2 facilities; the appointment of Ken Witt (who has strong ties with Merit Academy) as an interim superintendent; and the recent okay of the implementation of the “American Birthright” social studies standard.

The latest move has put the RE-2 District on the national spotlight again, with much confusion over the impact of this standard.  The district recently released a press release on this standard, but many questions from the public have persisted about the intention of this change, and what it really means for alterations and adjustments to the current curriculum.

Some critics of the board, including current and former teachers, argue that the school board is turning the district into a new “conservative identity,” and question why the district is getting so political.

They also note that student test scores have improved and laud the many activities programs available to students, and favor continuing on the pathway established by a more status quo approach, with certain improvements. These views counter the need for more parental choice, as many parents at meetings have applauded the efforts of the board to accommodate Merit Academy and the overall  push for needed school reform.

These arguments about school reform are common throughout the Pikes Peak region and nation, with many superintendents stepping down or getting ousted. School boards, which rarely featured a contested election, have gotten quite political, especially in the local region.