Three weeks after the far-right group Moms for Liberty posted a call to action for members to ask their districts to commit to full in-person learning, Elizabeth school board members passed a resolution that matches nearly word-for-word the language provided by what the Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled an “anti-government extremist” group.
“We’re starting to receive increased communication from community members and parents regarding concerns over COVID numbers going up and the possibility of schools either being closed or kids being forced to wear masks,” said Elizabeth school board president Rhonda Olsen. “So what we would like to review is a resolution to keep Elizabeth schools open and education unrestricted.”
The resolution claims the teachers unions, including the Colorado union (which it doesn’t name or provide proof of), “used federal funds and lobbying efforts to push for school closings during the last round of COVID, which harmed students.” It also refers to pandemic school closings as a “contrived state of emergency.”
As a result, Superintendent Dan Snowberger will not comply with any “unconstitutional” orders from the governor or any other agency, and students will not be asked to wear masks, get a vaccine, or “participate in any other COVID theater.”
Olsen didn’t mention the resolution came from Moms for Liberty, and board members offered no revisions before approving it 5-0.
“I actually love that it’s on the anniversary of 9/11,” said board Vice President Heather Booth. “This is amazing. I think there’s a lot of other districts that are going to do this. They’re your children. You get to decide.”
The rise of anti-COVID rhetoric in far-right circles coincides with November’s school board elections. In 2021, masking, vaccines and COVID restrictions where a central part of a number of campaigns in Colorado.
Right vs. Far Right in Elizabeth
Elizabeth sits inside Elbert County, where roughly 7 out of 10 voters are registered Republicans. Yet, earlier this year, three school board members, two of whom were once referred to as “proven conservatives” by the county GOP chair, Tom Peterson, resigned over what they called extreme political agendas taking over district business.
“Board member personal agendas created an environment where the board spent more time discussing personnel issues and the presence or prevention of radical left-wing ideologies such as CRT, SEL and Restorative Justice, that does not exist in our district,” wrote former board president Cary Karcher in her resignation letter.
Craig Blackham stated, “I have witnessed a total disregard for Board Policy, Board Core Values, Board Ethics, Confidentiality agreements and violations of Colorado Revised Statutes. I can’t be part of a group that disrespects order so casually.”
Former Running Creek Elementary School principal Robin Hunt also resigned over personal attacks by board members Olsen and Booth.
Olsen and Booth chose interim board members Mary Powell, Mike Calahan, and Jonathan Waller to serve until the election. They, along with Olsen, are running as a slate this November.
Roxanne Aviles and Dan Dahring are running in opposition. In a post on Nextdoor, Booth accused Aviles of reprimanding the board for not forcing masks on kids in 2021. Rather, Aviles stated in a letter to the board that she was concerned no one was mentioning practical precautions like hand-washing, sanitizing, or cleaning, let alone masking.
Lack of public notice
The board posted the resolution to this week’s meeting agenda within hours of the discussion, which violates the spirit of Colorado Open Meeting Laws.
The law states, “Full and timely notice (at least 24 hours before a meeting) is required before meetings at which the adoption of any proposed policy, position, resolution, rule, regulation or formal action occurs or at which a majority or quorum is expected to be in attendance.”
Elizabeth resident Jessica Capsel said she pulled up the agenda at 2 p.m. on the meeting day and didn’t see the resolution listed. She saw a link to an amended agenda when she looked again around 6 p.m. when the meeting started.
Without public comment or the chance to email the board, community members, parents, teachers, and staff, whom the board is supposed to represent, cannot express whether they agree with the board’s decision or would suggest changes.
Elizabeth school board members have not responded to a request for comment.