EL PASO COUNTY — This year school board elections took on another element in Colorado.
Usually, these elections are a calmer affair, compared to a Presidential or Congressional election, but this year a furor over critical race theory and public health mandates around COVID-19 have brought significant attention, and money, to these usually quiet races.
So what powers do school boards in El Paso County have, and what are the priorities of their new directors?
School boards in Colorado have significant powers allocated to them. The Colorado Springs School District 11 Board of Education manual describes it this way: "the Constitution of Colorado assigns to locally elected boards of education control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts."
The Constitution of the State of Colorado also gives boards of education powers over staffing, financial resources, and school facilities.
Control over most instruction is not controversial. There is broad agreement across the platforms of the new school board directors that reading and math scores need to be improved. However, there are two main areas where there is contention.
The first is in the area of civics and history, where the possibility of critical race theory being taught has driven debates at school boards across the country.
Critical race theory, according to the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, is "an academic and legal framework that denotes that systemic racism is part of American society," and "recognizes that racism is more than the result of individual bias and prejudice."
Critical race theory is not currently taught in Colorado schools, and it is largely reserved for undergraduate and masters students at universities. In District 49 the theory is now banned from being taught.
There is more to civics and social studies teaching than critical race theory, and the elected school board directors in all three El Paso County districts hold views on these subjects that could impact the way they are taught.
In District 49 one of the new board of education directors, Jamilynn D'Avola, wants to "return to teaching our children about the U.S. Constitution, our nation's true history, and civic responsibility," with a focus on "teaching America's Western Heritage, the U.S. Constitution, and character education," according to her responses in a candidate survey.
In District 20, Thomas Lavalley, who was re-elected as a director this year, believes "the ideas that CRT espouses, systemic, institutional racism, whites are oppressors, minorities are victims, etc. have no business in our classrooms."
In District 11 another newly elected director, Lauren Nelson, says that "schools must teach students our country's heritage without ideological emphasis from the teacher," and she believes "the biggest problem is that the current leadership is not focused on academic excellence for our students and instead focuses on social and political ideologies such as CRT."
It is yet unclear how this would affect the curriculum for students, but the way issues like the Civil Rights movement and racism are taught could be affected.
The Colorado Department of Education sets as one of its goals that high schoolers will be able to "examine and evaluate issues of unity and diversity from Reconstruction to present," like "the systematic impact of racism and nativism, role of patriotism, expansion of rights, and the role of religion."
An example of how this could play out occurred in Denver last year. The Denver Public Schools Board voted to enact the 'Know Justice Know Peace Resolution,' which set the district on a course to implement a revised curriculum that "elevates the history and culture of systematically marginalized communities."
It is unlikely, based on these directors' platforms, that they would institute this particular resolution, but it is within their power to make similar changes to the curriculum in El Paso County.
The other significant area is the topic of sexual education.
In District 20, Directors Konz, Salt, and Lavalley disagree with a comprehensive sexual education program, according to candidate surveys they filled out prior to the election.
Konz believes "gender theory and instruction in sexual behaviors have no place in K-12 education."
Salt views that the comprehensive sexual education as defined in the state statutes "provides too many details regarding sex ed, requiring discussions around experiences," and that it is "not appropriate material in school." He says that "sex education should focus on health and biology instead," and that sex education "is a conversation best had at home."
Lavalley "strongly oppose(s) the teaching of comprehensive sexual education," and that "parents should be the ones responsible for the moral upbringing of their children including the teaching of age appropriate sex ed."
In District 11, Directors Loma and Bankes are against comprehensive sex education in school. Loma does "not think it healthy for children to be taught sex or sexual orientation in public schools," and Bankes believes "sex education has no place in K-12 education."
Julie Ott, however, has a different view. Ott supports "age appropriate, research-based comprehensive sex education for all students so they can make informed and healthy decisions about sex, sexuality, and relationships."
In District 49, directors D'Avola, Liu, and Thompson do not support teaching comprehensive sexual education.
D'Avola believes it should "be taught by caring parents... and should not be taught at the elementary school level in a school setting." She believes that if it is offered in middle or high school, parents should have the option to "opt in" after reviewing the curriculum.
Liu does not "support comprehensive sexual education," and that "such topics can be taught at home if parents so choose."
Thompson does not think "it is the role of public schools" to teach comprehensive sexual education, and that "each family must decide what they want their children and young adults to learn."
In District 11, the new directors have slightly different views of how to deal with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic as it relates to schools and in-person learning.
Loma views "masks as useless, and mandates as political at best."
Nelson and Bankes believe parents should be the ones making the decisions.
Julie Ott's goal is to "keep students safe and in school for an in-person education," and views vaccinating and masking as the ways to "reduce quarantines for students and staff and thus keep students learning in person in a classroom."
In District 49, all three directors are opposed to vaccination mandates. Thompson believes that "to mask or not to mask should be up to the parents." Liu does not think the government and schools should be "dictating vaccination requirements, mask mandates, or quarantines." D'Avola views masks and vaccines as "a matter of personal choice."
The directors in District 20 hold similar views to those of District 49. Konz views masks and vaccines as a "personal choice." Salt does not believe there should be any form of medical requirements or conditions for students to attend school." Lavalley does not think vaccines or masks should be mandated in District 20 schools.
The new directors will be sworn in on December 3. They will then have an organization meeting on December 9 to hold officer elections and a reorganization meeting. The News5 team will be following the developments, and will keep you in the loop of any changes the new directors make.