An uprising by parents in key school board races across the state Tuesday has opened the schoolhouse doors to fresh thinking, needed reforms — and new hope for many Colorado kids. Voters in those districts toppled an elected hierarchy that to varying degrees was bureaucratic; out-of-touch; passive about declining achievement; averse to reform — and most maddening of all, unresponsive or even hostile to concerned parents. Tuesday’s remarkable turnabout now sets the stage for big things to happen once the new board members take their seats.
That encouraging Election Day outcome contrasted sharply with the results of balloting in some other Colorado districts, including some of the state’s largest, where union-backed boards maintained or even tightened their chokehold on local schools. The outlook in those districts is a lot less bright. That’s especially so as children statewide struggle to recover from the after-effects of “remote learning” amid a pandemic. Achievement scores not surprisingly have taken a nosedive, and students need triage right now — not more business as usual.
Among the places voters embraced change, ushering in new, pro-parent school board majorities, are Colorado Springs’ largest, School District 11; the Denver metro area’s Douglas County School District — the state’s third largest; Mesa County Valley School District 51 in Grand Junction; Academy School District 20 in Colorado Springs, and Weld County School District 6 in Greeley. It pretty much criss-crosses the most populated areas of the state.
The up-front catalysts for the parents’ rebellion in Colorado — as across the country — include deep and growing misgivings among the voting public about the teaching of so-called “critical race theory.” It distorts U.S. history and arguably propagandizes students. Alongside that is the mounting debate over what measures school districts should, and shouldn’t, take in response to the pandemic. Parents were growing weary of seemingly gratuitous mask mandates and quarantines, among other restrictions hobbling their children’s development.
Such points of contention tend to divide Coloradans along ideological and partisan lines, so it’s no surprise the districts where parents flipped board majorities are located in Republican strongholds.
Underlying the back-and-forth over face masks, vaccinations and allegations of “systemic racism” is another profound concern shared by an even broader swath of parents. That concern is that they simply aren’t being listened to, no matter what issue is on the table. And that concern spans the political spectrum.
Gazette and Colorado Politics columnist Jimmy Sengenberger captured the resentment that has been simmering — and that came to a head this week — in his Wednesday column for Colorado Politics.