As candidates and voters mingled at the start of last Thursday’s School Board Candidate Meet & Greet in Loveland at Citipointe Church, conversations were interrupted as every cell phone in the room beeped simultaneously: the Colorado Bureau of Investigation had issued a ‘Blue Alert.’ These go out to media — and cell phones — when “a peace officer has been killed or received a life-threatening injury and the suspect(s) have fled,” says CBI, much like the better-known ‘Amber Alerts’ for missing children.

The evening’s featured speakers sounded alarms of their own, warning the audience of about 70 people of dangers awaiting their children inside their public schools, including pornography and racism.

Those speakers were Deborah Flora of Parents United America and Lori Gimelshteyn of Colorado Parent Advocacy Network. Joining them were nine conservative candidates seeking seats on four different Northern Colorado school districts.

Flora cited Colorado schools’ comprehensive sex education — “absolutely pornographic … not what we would call biology.”

She also said it’s a form of “racism that tells a beautiful child with less melanin that they should feel ashamed of their beautiful characteristic. Every child is made beautifully and perfectly, and should never be made to feel ashamed of anything about who they are.”

She said: “My job is to fight for what is right, to advocate, and to drag the truth into the light.”

Comments arced toward a key element of the candidates’ campaigns: parents’ rights.

Parents must “guide [children’s] upbringing and every single aspect of … their education,” Flora said. 

Gimelshteyn traced the founding of her group to a discussion with her daughter about events at school. She said CPAN had organized in nearly 180 school districts statewide.

Her remarks touched on issues related to the LGBTQIA community, Black Lives Matter activism, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, social-emotional learning programs, and school libraries.

“We do not support book banning,” she said. “We support age-appropriate books that are developmentally appropriate [and with] parental permission.”

Both Flora and Gimelshteyn ended their remarks by focusing on parents.

Flora said, “Somebody who’s a Democrat or a Republican [is] a mom and a dad first. … They know better than any bureaucracy about their children, what keeps them up at night, what gives them joy.”

Regardless of political affiliation, Gimelshteyn said, parents “want their kids to be educated and they want their kids to be safe.”

She added, “We believe that parents direct the upbringing and education of their child,” she said, calling for “school-lesson transparency.”

She told listeners to back candidates with donations and volunteering for campaigns by making phone calls and canvassing neighborhoods.

“We need to talk a lot … about these great candidates,” she said.

Candidate materials and campaign websites for the nine who participated that evening don’t mention book battles, critical race theory, or sex education. The predominant focus among the campaigns seems to be on parental involvement.

Two of the candidates spoke with CTR. Seven others couldn’t be reached after the event. 

Greeley Evans Weld SD6 candidate Stacey Casteel

Weld County candidate Stacey Casteel told CTR she wants more tutoring for students. 

Casteel said her daughter’s test results from kindergarten through sixth grade indicated some need for some personalized help, and although now she’s headed to an international baccalaureate program, “she wouldn’t be there, if I hadn’t had the ability to get someone to help tutor her.”

The schools had told Casteel that “there was definitely a problem, but it wasn’t bad enough” for her daughter to qualify for tutoring from the district.

Casteel’s website cites “college and career ready” students, and “giving back the power to the parents” as her priorities.

Mark Leach, running in Weld County’s RE-4 district, wants “a more robust trade program” including preparation for apprenticeships — a skills-based effort earlier generations might have called vo-tech.

Weld RE4 candidate Mark Leach

“Not everyone’s going to college,” said Leach, whose son is in third grade. “They’re not going to be biologists or mathematicians or business owners, but they might make a heck of a carpenter.” On issues raised by the evening’s speakers, Leach said “that’s not why I’m running” but “we all went through the Covid years and it was very politically divisive … very polarizing.” 

His website notes student health and fitness, workforce preparation, and transparency — but not parental rights.

He said in his career, which includes military service and developing “strength and conditioning [programs] with astronauts,” he has developed skills in working effectively with diverse populations. “I’ve worked with people that can’t even speak the same language,” Leach said, and he “has no problem talking with people” who disagree with him.

Running in Poudre School District, Kurt Kastein and Caleb Larson exchanged messages with this reporter, but didn’t connect directly to answer questions. Andrea Booth and Scott Schoenbauer, also in Poudre, Yazmin Navarro running in the Thompson School District, and Ashlee Tilley, running in Weld County, didn’t respond to requests for interviews. Helen ‘Kathy’ Ulrich,  declined via text, citing time constraints.

Their respective campaigns state similar aims.

Booth, Kastein, Larson and Schoenbauer in a Coloradoan report last month said the four are “running on parents’ rights platforms.” Schoenbauer said then that the four aren’t running as a slate, but want to bring “a fresh perspective” to the board. 

“I’m definitely associated with those people, hoping to bring a new, fresh look at things,” he said.

Booth’s website says education “should be a collaborative effort” among district stakeholders. Navarro’s primary issue listed on her website is “respecting parents” — “treat[ing] parents as partners … support[ing] parent involvement.”

Tilley’s list of priorities starts with “parental empowerment.”

An Ulrich handout at the event noted “the right of parents to know what their children are learning and experiencing in our schools.”

Several candidates stressed the importance of transparency. Other issues of focus mentioned by the candidates include curricula, academic achievement — Schoenbauer’s site has graphs on proficiency in math and reading — teacher advocacy, workforce readiness, safe environments, and paraprofessional support for students.

The forum was billed on promotional materials as offering a “Resource, Solution and Connections for Parents,” and promised information on “what is truly happening in our schools today,” and “the truth” regarding academic decline, “harassment” in schools, gender-transition, and “controversial curriculum.”

The event was held at Citipointe Church, a U.S. site of a Brisbane, Australia-based church system. Staci Brock, a co-leader of Citipointe’s “cultural impact team” provided background on organizing the event.

She said not all school board candidates were invited.

“This was specifically a meet and greet for the conservative candidates. … So, that was our focus tonight.”

She said the event’s aim was not just to “get informed,” but to “get involved.”

The forum took place in a room peppered with posters and placards with slogans including “apathy breeds tyranny” and “communism is Satan’s religion.” Several of the signs bore the logo of conservative firebrand Charlie Kirk’s college outreach group, Turning Point USA. Copies of the U.S. Constitution were also available. An American eagle peered out from a portrait in one corner.

Posters from conservative Christian group Turning Point USA Faith decorated the room

One attendee sported a “Patriot Grandmas” t-shirt.

A field rep for the Truth & Liberty Coalition in Colorado Springs said a voter guide is in the works and should be ready by mid-October. Another candidate event was mentioned, planned for Oct. 19.

The evening began with prayer — “thank you that we are still a free country … we are going to hold our representatives accountable … put our hands to the task” — followed by the Pledge of Allegiance, and then the unexpected Blue Alert interruption.

A media report on that evening’s alert later linked it to the death of a parole officer and injuries to another. It was rescinded after about 90 minutes, according to a tweet from the CBI.

The more widely known Amber Alerts date to the mid-1990s — named for a kidnapped and murdered child, and an acronym for America’s Missing: Broadcast Emergency Response. 

The introduction of those alerts loosely coincided with the school board battles of a previous generation: the teaching of a pseudoscientific theory of creation known as intelligent design, demonstrating the historical trends that make public school board rooms the battlegrounds of ideological debate in Colorado and across the nation.

Candidates Running

Nine candidates participated in Thursday’s event at Citipointe Church. Links to the districts and candidates’ websites are available below:

Poudre SD

Andrea Booth, District F

Kurt Kastein, District B

Caleb Larson, District G

Scott Schoenbauer, District A

Thompson SD

Yazmin Navarro, District D

Weld RE-4 SD

Mark Leach, District C

Helen ‘Kathy’ Ulrich, District E

Greeley Evans Weld County SD 6

Stacey Casteel

Ashlee Tilley