An El Paso County judge on Wednesday denied Colorado Springs School District 49 Board member Ivy Liu’s petition for injunctive relief, filed after Liu was not allowed onto the ballot for the Nov. 7 election.
In D49, board members represent specific geographic sub-districts, and Liu was removed from the race for D49’s District 5 seat. According to the ruling, “The Court finds that Petitioner was not a resident of DD5 when she picked up her election packet on August 25, 2023, and was not an elector eligible and qualified to run for office or be a candidate for office in DD5.”
Liu did attempt to change her residence for the election, but the court notes:
”The only apparent reason for Petitioner to move, which she implicitly admits in her texts and testimony, is to run for office in DD5. She claimed that she would rent a room from her daughter and that her daughter’s family would continue to reside at the [new address]. She could only cite one change of address that she has completed to date, changing her Amazon account to the [new address]. She has not changed her driver’s license address, mailing address with the post office, or any other address. She claimed her home was now rented out to other bona fide tenants, but admitted under cross-examination that she had been renting out rooms in her home for three years. She admitted she has not rented out her personal bedroom in Petitioner’s [old address]. Petitioner originally testified that her landlord was a ‘friend,’ but under cross examination admitted the landlord was her daughter.”
The court found that D49’s election official, Lanette DePaul, acted appropriately in denying Liu access to the ballot. “There is circumstantial evidence that one or both of the leases provided to [DePaul] were backdated by the [Liu],” wrote Judge Thomas Kane. “[Liu] admitted she wrote to [DePaul] in text messages that she was having the landlord sign the lease electronically on August 24, that a prior lease had her moving in on August 25, and that the revised lease had her moving in on November 8. Since both leases provided by [Liu] were dated August 24 and [Liu] testified there were only two leases between her and her daughter, at least one of them was backdated to August 24. [DePaul] is charged by statute to determine whether [Liu]’s nomination and application meet the qualifications and eligibility to be a candidate. When presented with conflicting accounts of residency, conflicting and possibly backdated leases, and a motive to game the system for cross purposes, [DePaul] reasonably concluded [Liu] was not credibly supporting her claim of residency in DD5.”
In addition to not meeting residency requirements, Liu also failed to gather the required number of signatures. “The Court finds that [Liu] provided the signatures of only 47 electors, three short of the requisite 50 needed to support her nomination,” wrote Kane. “[DePaul] properly excluded six of the seven signatories identified by [Liu] as electors that she argues should have been deemed electors by [DePaul].”
The seats up for grabs this year are those currently held by board President John Graham, board Vice President Rick Van Wieren, and Liu. Historically conservative, the election of Liu and Jamilynn D’Avola in 2021, who last year was the subject of a complaint from the Freedom From Religion Foundation for “proselytizing a student,” marked a rightward shift in the governance of the district, which has led to a series of contentious board meetings.
Liu, who has been vocal in her support of conservative battles against critical race theory, social emotional learning, and LGBTQ issues, has had a tumultuous term on the D49 board. In April, 2022, Liu was removed from her position of treasurer and other committee assignments as a result of a harassment campaign against fellow board members Graham and Lori Thompson. In November, 2022, Liu was officially censured by the board after quoting Adolf Hitler on social media. During Liu’s tenure, two top executives resigned and Van Wieren told the Colorado Springs Independent in November, 2022 that he anticipates the district will lose “dozens of employees as a result of what she’s doing.”
Now running unopposed for the District 5 seat is Mike Heil, a Navy veteran and parent who has served on D49’s Cultural Leadership Advisory Council and the MLO Committee. During a Sept. 18 candidate forum, Heil discussed his position on social emotional learning, one of Liu’s favorite topics for fomenting conservative outrage.
“I think the key word there in social emotional learning is ‘learning’ and that’s what we’re here to do in school,” said Heil. “It’s absolutely vital for the teacher to be able to foster respect among the student body so that they can focus on what they’re there to do, and that is academics. As far as the controversies around it — we’ve asked again and again and again for evidence of ill intent and nobody has actually come forward and produced any, so as somebody who will always be driven by evidence, I can’t take that concern very seriously.”
Running for the District 2 seat is Debra Schmidt, who did not take part in the Sept. 18 forum. Schmidt is a Liu ally who in April filed a lawsuit against D49 after she was removed from a February board meeting for holding up a sign with the words “Rick Lori John RESIGN.”
Running against Schmidt is Candace Lehman, a retiree who decided run because she “heard the divisiveness and inflammatory rhetoric in other districts in Colorado and in District 49 so I decided to run. Hopefully I can bring back respect and dignity and still hear and respond to all opinions. In my previous job I had to work with multiple departments with different needs and goals to put together a cohesive project packet to present to customers. I believe that I can listen and hear all sides to implement the best policies and procedures for all stakeholders in the district.”
In District 3, retired Marine Mark Cravens, former teacher Marie LaVere-Wright, and mom Ralene Revord are competing for the seat. Revord did not respond to the D49 Student Board of Representatives’ candidate survey or attend the Sept. 18 forum, but her website features the endorsement of El Paso County Commissioner Carrie Geitner. In July, Geitner pushed the board to deny a $20,750 Community Development Block Grant to The PLACE, a nonprofit that helps youth exit homelessness, over concerns related to abortion and parents’ rights during a July 11 meeting.
Ballots will be mailed to voters in mid-October.