A few weeks before the Colorado Republican Party called for the burning of Pride flags, the organization sent out a mass email falsely claiming that parents of students attending Grand Peak Academy Charter School in Colorado Springs were told “their third-grade girls would be continuously forced to use the restroom with a grown male teacher who calls himself ‘Ms. Sparks’ and tells kids they can be any gender they want.”


Darcy Schoening, Director of Special Initiatives for the Colorado GOP, who signed the May 21 email, used the alleged bathroom incident as an example of how the “Colorado government is preying on our children and forcing their safety and educational growth to play second fiddle to the feelings of trans males who are pushing the indoctrination of our children into harmful sexual situations.”

Promoting the idea of men using the bathroom next to little girls to spread fear isn’t new, nor is it based in fact, including Schoening’s description of what happened at Grand Peak Academy.

A series of emails obtained through a public records request confirm there’s no evidence that a transgender substitute ever used a student bathroom or that parents were told their children would have to continue to use the restroom next to this individual.

“What began as one issue has now completely turned into something different. At the beginning, the concern was the sub themselves/a comment/dress/hair color and is now a bathroom situation which is 100% a rumor that we have spent hours of our time trying to confirm from various camera views in our building and can never even confirm,” wrote Grand Peak Principal Nicole Parker in response to a parent complaint.

Chris Dempsey, president of the Grand Peak board of directors, also responded, “I can tell you that we have scoured the cameras, and there is not an instance of the substitute going into the bathroom … What this has turned into is a ‘what if’ situation and not a situation that we allowed to happen like the rumor mill has painted.”

Student asks sub why they look like a boy

Jeremy Rickard, a Grand Peak board member, said in an interview that while Ms. Sparks, a biological male identifying as a female, was substitute teaching the school’s third-graders in February, a boy asked how the teacher could go by a female name when they looked like a boy.

Rickard said while there’s no way to confirm exactly how the sub responded, the gist is that they told the boy you can be whatever you want to be. 

“Fast forward to the end of the day and kids go home and talk about what happened with their parents, and there started to be a number of parents reaching out to Nicole Parker (the principal) to discuss the situation,” Rickard said.

“The comments got to be disruptive enough that she (Parker) felt it made more sense to have a single meeting where everybody from third grade came and not just the one class that was involved.”

During the forum, Rickard said it became apparent that many different versions of what happened in the classroom were circulating, including one in which Sparks used the girls’ student bathroom.

An investigation of the school’s security footage and a conversation with Sparks satisfied the school’s administration that nothing happened to threaten any student’s privacy, and they were allowed to return to the building.

Parker also informed parents that since 2008, Colorado law has mandated that all public schools must allow individuals to use the bathroom in a way that is “consistent with their gender identity.” 

“Transgender individuals may voluntarily choose to use a single-person bathroom if they want, but if they want to use a gender-specific bathroom then GPA is required by law to let them do so. This legal rule applies equally to transgender adults and children,” wrote Parker.

She also said it’s not feasible to enact a school policy that adults can’t use student bathrooms because the school simply doesn’t have enough adult bathrooms to make that an option.

Anonymous social media posts alert Moms for Liberty

In March, an anonymous member of a non-sanctioned Facebook group devoted to the school began posting messages expressing outrage about the school’s response to Sparks and its refusal to violate the law by discriminating against them.

Screenshot of Facebook post

“That’s when everything began to spiral,” said Rickard. “There were claims that people had posted in there that didn’t happen. A lot of discussion about what was going on inside of there were just wrong.”

Rickard said someone added Kristy Davis, co-chair of the El Paso Moms for Liberty Chapter, to the Facebook group, leading Jeffrey Hall, who says he’s the chapter’s liaison to the school district, to email the school in May.

“It has come to the attention of Mom’s For Liberty El Paso Chapter that a male who calls himself: Ms. Nova Sparks, or Sparkles and who poses as a female, has substituted as a teacher at Grand Peak Academy on February 19th 6th grade, February 22nd 3rd grade, March 5th 2nd grade,” wrote Hall.

“Reports from several moms have told us that this guy posing as a female has been telling grade-level children that ‘you can be a boy or girl.’ Additionally, this guy posing as a female with green or yellow hair has been reported to have used the girls (not women’s) bathroom,” wrote Hall.

Schoening is a former leader of the Moms for Liberty El Paso County chapter. The Southern Poverty Law Center has named Moms for Liberty an anti-government hate group.

Parents spew anti-trans rhetoric, leave school

“Unfortunately the fallout from Schoening’s email and the spread of misinformation remains to be seen,” said Rickard. “We normally have a good idea about what enrollment looks like, but some parents did come in and explicitly say they were withdrawing for that reason. I’m sure some others will silently do the same thing.”

Emails show parents believed the rumors about Sparks using the girl’s bathroom and bought into the message that doing so threatened their child’s safety.

“Then, a few days ago, I saw posts on Facebook on how this man used the children’s restroom in your school, which made the children very uncomfortable. I was disappointed to find out that you condone and support this inappropriate behavior from an adult faculty member. You’ve stated that adults can use the children’s restrooms and pick which one they want to use based on what gender they want to be. 

“My daughter starts kindergarten next year and the fact that a biological male would be allowed to use the same restroom as her while she may even be in there alone at the same time is egregious, appalling, and wrong!,” wrote one parent.

Another parent wrote, “Would you willingly let your 2nd grade daughter go into the bathroom alone where there is a 6 foot, green-haired biological man who identifies as non-binary, let alone while you are not there? I am not sure I know any parents that would allow this, and yet we are made out to be the crazy ones who are not “culturally aware” for questioning this.”

Dempsey responded with frustration, saying no matter what the school does, no one is happy. “I imagine this is how the substitute felt when they were being bullied by adults who do not or choose not to tolerate other lifestyle choices,” he wrote. 

No link between trans-inclusive bathroom policies and harm

There is no evidence that trans-inclusive bathroom policies endanger adults or children.

A 2018 study reviewed data from public record requests in Massachusettes of criminal incident reports related to assault, sex crimes, and voyeurism in public restrooms, locker rooms, and dressing rooms and found no link between the passage of nondiscrimination laws and privacy violations.

“Opponents of gender identity inclusive public accommodations nondiscrimination laws often cite fear of safety and privacy violations in public restrooms if such laws are passed, while proponents argue that such laws are needed to protect transgender people and concerns regarding safety and privacy violations are unfounded,” wrote the study’s author, Amira Hasenbush. “But this study provides evidence that these incidents are rare and unrelated to the laws.”

GLSEN, an organization devoted to ensuring LGBTQ students can learn and grow in a school environment, found that 60% of transgender students report having been prohibited from using the bathroom or locker room that aligns with their gender identity. The report also found that “over three-quarters of transgender students felt unsafe at school because of their gender, and transgender people (specifically trans girls and women) are at very high risk of experiencing violence throughout their lives, starting even before adolescence.”