For the second time in less than a month, organizers of conservative school board candidate forums in Douglas County asked reporters to leave. In the most recent forum, an organizer for the “We the Women” candidate round-robin asked this reporter to leave shortly after arriving, saying she didn’t want the event reported. 

When told that the event was advertised as open to the public, she shook her head and insisted I leave. Around 35 people attended, with many either involved in hosting or representing the candidates. 

Some attendees known to the organizers for their efforts to advocate for the LGBTQ community were accused of being part of antifa, short for anti-fascist action. Antifa conspiracy theories describing an organized and well-funded group of terrorists with radical tendencies are common in right-wing circles, although experts say such claims are false and touch on longstanding, sometimes antisemitic conspiracy theories

According to an audience member, one of the event organizers later called an audience member a “libtard,” an ableist term some conservatives use to describe people with leftist political views.

Earlier this month, organizers of a school board candidate forum hosted by the Douglas County GOP and Parker Conservatives escorted Colorado Community Media reporter McKenna Harford out of the Deep Space Lounge, telling her the event was private despite also being advertised as public.

Candidates not invited

The most recent forum, which the invitation says is “by Douglas County Republicans,” gives the impression that only four of the seven candidates agreed to join. However, candidates Susan Meek, Brad Geiger and Valerie Thompson weren’t invited. 

“I showed up to learn what the other candidates were going to say and to understand more about the contract mentioned in the invitation,” said Brad Geiger, who is running against David DiCarlo and Jason Page for District C. “But I absolutely wasn’t invited to participate until after the meeting started, and I introduced myself.”

Geiger, who is running as part of the Community Choice slate with Meek and Thompson, confirmed the others had also not received an invitation. 

Questionable contract

The invitation states that current DougCo school board president Mike Peterson would “share what has been going on and how hard they have worked to honor the contract they signed with us.” For some reason, Peterson couldn’t attend, so board vice president Christy Williams spoke in his place.

Williams doesn’t mention a contract in a recording of the event obtained by Colorado Times Recorder, but boasts about three accomplishments the current board has made since their term began in November 2021.

“Some of the big things we did when we were first elected were to stop the mask mandate and get kids back to school in person,” said Williams to audience applause. “We’ve done a lot with the equity policy. We’ve added language to make sure that the equity policy includes all people, all students, not just immutable characteristics, but also your critical thinking skills, those sorts of things to ensure we’re valuing all students.

“And, most recently, we did the KBB policy [Douglas County School District’s alphanumeric policy naming system, not Kristi Burton Brown], which is a parent policy that talks about (inaudible) and giving parents the opportunity to opt-in or opt-out and also making it so that parents are really empowered to have good relationships with the teachers.”

Ending the mask mandate, changing the equity policy, and revising the district’s parent engagement policy have all been highly controversial. Last Spring, when asked to name the most important issue facing Douglas County schools, a representative sample of county residents named “too political” their top choice, regardless of their political affiliation. Only 32% gave the board a favorable rating. 

Jesus guides everything I do

According to the recording, candidate Maria Sumnicht, who is running against Valerie Thompson in District F, told the group, “I am a conservative. I am a Christian, and my guiding light and my ethics belong to Jesus Christ. So I look to Him to guide everything I do.” 

She also said she’s as “conservative as conservative can be” and believes in equality, not equity and that equity lowers the bar and destroys opportunity. In the past few years, conservative politicians have attacked equity policies, saying they are rooted in critical race theory (CRT) and are racist in and of themselves.

They believe equity lowers achievement standards in favor of bringing all students up to the same level. Yet, according to the National Equity Project, “Educational equity means that each child receives what they need to develop to their full academic and social potential.”

Equity has long been accepted as standard practice for children with learning disabilities, who receive federally mandated services to guarantee they get the extra support necessary to achieve at the same level as their peers. Equality would mean all students get the same resources rather than giving each student what they need to succeed.

That racist stuff

Page introduced himself, saying his decision to run for school board was personal and not political. He said he wants the district and its teachers and students to be the best, starting with solid leadership and great parent engagement. 

When asked about social-emotional learning programs, Page said he’s seen entire class periods devoted to social-emotional learning and believes there are academic consequences for doing so. “We need to learn how to be a part of a community while we’re learning social studies. It should be an integrated process, and we’re burning a lot of good academic time by talking about racist stuff,” said Page.

Many conservative school board candidates across the state have taken a hard line against social-emotional learning, including two Cherry Creek school board candidates who share the same campaign manager, Holly Horn, as Sumnicht, Page, and Andy Jones (who is running as a slate with Sumnicht and Page).

While they blame social-emotional learning for declining test scores, Douglas County schools have seen standardized test scores increase to where they were before the pandemic began. 

Prove you’re a conservative

DiCarlo introduced himself as the only candidate endorsed by the county Republican party and other high-profile state office holders. He also said he’s the only candidate in any race opposed to raising taxes for reasons he hoped to go into during the question and answer portion.

DiCarlo makes no bones about his conservative track record and doesn’t try to say that politics don’t belong in classrooms.

“We have a lot of good stuff going on as a district, but we can do better,” said DiCarlo. Despite serving on many district committees, he said he still had a kid that the district failed, which he blames on the district being so bureaucracy-heavy. 

“There’s so much CYA[Cover Your Ass], as opposed to doing what’s right for the student,” he said. “If I’m there, I’m going to steal the words that former Speaker McNulty used (inaudible), which is there needs to be an anchor, a conservatively-based anchor. It is not enough to say you’re conservative, you must show it.”

Bullying builds character

According to Craig Mason, who attended the event, “When addressing bullying and racial tensions, David DiCarlo recounted his own upbringing as an Italian American and recounted being called the ‘D’ word as one of Italian heritage. He stated, ‘Hard situations make hard people, and soft situations make soft people.’ He stated that the correct way to respond to bullying was for victims to fight back physically.”

Mason said, “Maria Sumnicht recounted how she endured racial slurs and insults growing up and how this formed her character. She stated that she feels bullying is part of growing up and that name-calling is normal and to be expected.”

The Douglas County school board is currently named in a federal civil lawsuit for failing to protect three Black and biracial students from ridicule, harassment, hate speech, and threats of violence. The parties allege the district and the school board knew about the hostile environment faced by many minority students and “acted with callous indifference of that knowledge and made virtually no effort to mitigate the racist hostilities, leaving these children to fend for themselves.”