Two New Lawsuits Filed Against the Local School Board
Ever since the election of new school board members in 2021, the actions of the Woodland Park RE-2 District leaders have faced significant backlash from some community members, igniting a slew of well-publicized lawsuits and political attacks.
This trend is showing no signs of slowing down.
During the ’21-’22 school year, the board was sued by a local resident over violating open meetings laws.
A group of citizens also tried to recall three board members, but they were unable to collect enough validated signatures for the ouster effort to succeed.
A district judge initially ordered the board to better follow open meetings rules and then he threw out the lawsuit saying the board had corrected their actions. During the last school year, a judge ruled in another lawsuit that the board could not withhold surveillance footage showing the new superintendent speaking with board members.
Now in the last several weeks, the backlash against the board has reached a new level. There are now two new lawsuits from different citizens that accuse the board of violating the First Amendment rights of citizens.
One of the lawsuits has been filed by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) who has filed suits against the Teller County sheriff in the past. The ACLU recently filed the lawsuit on behalf of a former employee after they were kicked out of a school board meeting and banned from the property for a year.
The ACLU claims that resident Logan Ruths’ comments were “brief and harmless” and that he did not deserve to get kicked out of the meeting and banned from school district property. The lawsuit alleges that the school board violated Ruth’s right of freedom of expression under both the state and U.S. Constitutions.
The lawsuit came about after Ruths was listening to a speaker during the June 14 school board meeting. Ruths thought that the speaker’s comments were hateful towards the LGBTQ community.
After the speaker stopped, Ruths said, “Where else do you do comedy at? I’d love to see your show sometime.”
“The board abruptly stopped the meeting, threatened to call the police to have Ruths removed and ultimately intimidated him into leaving the property,” the statement issued by the ACLU stated.
The day after the board meeting, Ruths received a letter from the school district’s attorney saying that he was banned from all school district properties and events for over a year. The statement said that if Ruths violated the order he would get criminally charged with trespassing.
The ACLU also asked the court to remove Ruths’ banishment order while the lawsuit is pending.
“Cracking a three-second joke does not come anywhere close to the bar that allows a school district to say for the next year you in this community cannot speak to the school board,” Tim Macdonald, legal director of the ACLU of Colorado told The Colorado Sun. “And we think it’s designed and intended to send a message to the community that if you speak out, if you criticize this school board, we will try to silence you. We will try to bar you from speaking.”
Parent Sues School District Over Alleged Religious Discrimination
In late July, another lawsuit against the school district was filed by a parent of students in the community. The plaintiff, Jessie Pool, claims that an elementary school principal, the superintendent, and the district as a whole, violated her freedom of religion rights protected by the First Amendment.
According to the lawsuit paperwork, Pool is the mother of two students in the district who attend Columbine Elementary School in Woodland Park. The lawsuit states that Pool is a “practicing eclectic neo-pagan who shares her faith with her children.”
“In accordance with their sincerely held religious belief, Ms. Pool engaged in a private oracle card reading with each of her children while visiting them at Columbine,” the lawsuit states. “The principal approached Ms. Pool during this religious practice and demanded she cease exercising her religious freedom.”
The suit then claims that the school district retaliated against her by forbidding her from visiting her children at the school. “This case is about an emboldened, infamous, extremist school district violating the First Amendment rights of Jessie Pool, an eclectic neo-pagan whose sincerely held beliefs do not conform with those of Woodland Park School District,” the suit states.
The lawsuits hit the main stage this summer right before three of the five current school board members’ seats go up for election. School Board Directors Cassie Kimbrell, Mick Bates, and Board Vice President David Illingworth’s seats all go up for re-election this November.
Three other candidates have already thrown their names in the hat for the three open positions. Bates, meanwhile, has started a campaign to retain his seat.