Huge Crowd Denied Entrance to Board Meeting
Police summoned to quell potential riot situation
Drama continued with the Woodland Park School RE-2 District Board of Education last week, as the elected panel faced the decision of renewing Interim Superintendent Ken Witt’s contract.
Not surprisingly, this subject commanded center stage attention, and generated a huge crowd of residents, a large chunk of whom were denied entrance to the regularly scheduled meeting due to space limitations. This nearly sparked a potential riot, with the police summoned to help with meeting security.
The issue of Witt’s renewal took on an extra edge, as the school board drew national attention when NBC News recently published a story online entitled “‘Trump was great at this: ‘How conservatives transformed a Colorado school district.”
The national news agency highlighted the controversy that has taken place since the new school board members running as the “conservative choice” were elected into office in November 2021. The reporter interviewed dozens of former staff and members of the community
The article discussed new changes being made since Witt has taken the reigns last December. As with much national and state coverage of the district, NBC News discussed the implementation of the American Birthright Social Studies program and the fact that the district has cut a slew of mental health services from the budget. It also alleged that board leaders were taking the tactics used by former President Donald Trump and utilizing these techniques to gain political control of the district.
The timing of this article further sharped the partisan swords that have divided the community over the policies of the RE-2 board and actions of the new superintendent. It is the latest of a spree of nationally-recognized media outlets to scrutinize the current RE-2 Board.
The Choice of a Limited Meeting Venue Questioned
The board held their regularly scheduled meeting last Wednesday night. In the past, meetings were being held inside the high school’s auditorium to accommodate the large crowds at the public meetings.
But then after attention for the meetings decreased, they were moved back into a conference room. Board president David Rusterholtz told the local and regional media that they did not anticipate that the meeting last week would have a large crowd.
Therefore, the meeting was held at the conference room inside the district office and it did end up reaching capacity. But instead of changing the venue or accommodating more members of the community with overflow rooms, about 100 people were denied entrance to the session.
Rusterholtz also said that they did not change the venue to the auditorium because they would have had to reschedule the meeting. Some of the people standing outside did get a chance to speak during public comment, and the meeting was also live streamed with dozens of other viewers.
About an hour before the session started, people started lining up at the door of the district office. At about 5 p.m. a number of people were seen waiting in a line that spread from the door to the school’s driveway.
According to Fox 21 News, parents and teachers showed up in large numbers to protest, but approximately 100 people from the Charis Bible College came to support the school board and superintendent. “Even though they didn’t necessarily have a connection to the school, they were exhorted by their leader Andrew Wommack, who said that the local community needed their support and that their values were at risk,” Fox 21 News reported. “Around 5:30 p.m., chaos ensued when officials with the school board said they would not be letting anyone else in. Hundreds of angry people were left outside in the pouring rain.”
The situation reportedly then took an ugly turn.
People began pounding on the doors forcing the school district’s security to call the police to help contain the crowd. One parent in the crowd brought a microphone so people could speak loudly outside and get their point across.
Several people stood outside in the cold and rain for the duration of the meeting, many without umbrellas. During public comment some of the people waiting outside were allowed in the meeting to speak.
In the end, the school board voted unanimously to appoint Witt as the district’s permanent superintendent. This decision probably didn’t surprise many of the board critics, who view Witt as an administrator trying to solidify the board’s conservation direction. They say morale among teachers and staff has never been worse
Board supporters, though, heavily endorse Witt, saying he values the importance of parental choice and respects such charter institutions as the Merit Academy, which leases a good portion of RE-2 facilities.
This conflict could come to a head in the November elections, when several elected seats will be decided.