Williams: Religion, racism, radical politics don’t belong in school board races
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.
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 and 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 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.
A local 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.
They are composed of what I would consider evangelical Christians, home-schoolers 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 composed 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 composed of English as a Second Language children 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 Pride 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 front-runner 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 two Avon recall elections 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.
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, something like what happened in my parents’ former home in Grand County with the Granby bulldozer rampage 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.
David O. Williams is an award-winning freelance journalist who lives in EagleVail and runs RealVail.com, where this column originally appeared. His work has been published in more than 50 newspapers and magazines around Colorado and the world.