COLORADO SPRINGS — Families and staff in Academy School District 20 had the opportunity to hear directly from this year's candidates for the school board in a forum moderated by News5's Alasyn Zimmerman.
In Tuesday night's forum at Rampart High School, the candidates fielded questions on parental involvement in curriculum, what books belong in schools, how to support growth in the district, how to address school safety, addressing negative narratives around LGBTQ+ students, whether Critical Race Theory belongs in schools, and how can the district act to recruit and retain talent.
The candidates on this ballot are all running for the board of directors with two seats to be filled this year on a four-year term. If you could not attend in person, News5 is carrying the event for replay on our streaming platforms for KOAA.com, the News5 mobile app, and your favorite streaming device. Don't have it? Visit our apps page to learn how to install on your device.
Here is a brief breakdown of some topics covered during the event. While this is not a comprehensive breakdown, we encourage you to see the event for yourself as a lot was covered in the 2-hour long forum.
Funding for "expanding armed security officers to each elementary school" is one part of the district's Ballot Issue 4A which you can read at the bottom of this article.
Of the candidates for office, Amy Shandy was the only one who said they did not support 4A. Current board members Heather Cloninger and Will Temby support the current programs within D20 to enhance student safety and the proposal to have trained, armed personnel on all campuses. Challengers Shandy and Derrick Wilburn would like to look at further options for security, including utilizing the FASTER program which trains school personnel on firearms and emergency response procedures.
All of the candidates support parents and the community having a voice in how the district operates. But there is a difference of opinion when it comes to who does the decision-making. The topic of banning books, or at the very least just not introducing them to school libraries has elicited a strong conversation in many districts across the country.
In April a number of parents complained two books had explicit sexual content and should not be accessible at school. The books are "Push" by Sapphire and "Identical" by Ellen Hopkins. The titles were pulled from some library shelves, only to be returned for the fall 2023 semester.
Cloninger agrees the district should evaluate materials on a 'book-by-book basis' and does not support having sexually explicit content in libraries. She believes parents should have a voice in what constitutes sexually explicit content. She argues a conversation is necessary as what one person may not find of value, someone else may. Cloninger also argued there is a difference between what an individual student may seek out versus what is read in the classroom.
Temby argues there is a slippery slope when it comes to book bans, and believes the district should do a better job up-front when publishers ship books to campuses. He thinks the content should be vetted up front to make sure it is consistent with the values of what the board members feel is age-appropriate for students.
Amy Shandy shared her belief that it should be up to the community to express their beliefs on what is "off-limits" to the board so members can make an informed decision for the community. She argues that just because a school library does not have a particular book does not mean it is banned, as there are many other avenues for students and parents to obtain content they believe is age-appropriate at home. She supports judging books based on literary value.
Derrick Wilburn asks if books are considered for campuses based on whether they hold up to the district's desire to have students with high character, and to use district resources responsibly to ensure our children are not exposed to vile or vulgar content in school. He also agrees with taking a 'book-by-book' approach to reviews.
Critical Race Theory and American Birthright curriculum
Current board members Cloninger and Temby pushed back on the rhetoric claiming that Critical Race Theory is a part of curriculum in D20 schools. Both noted that CRT is not a curriculum, but rather a conversation in military and legal circles about society. Neither supports bringing CRT into our schools as they want students to get a full picture of American history. Cloninger is especially concerned about arguments between adults on CRT and the impact those conversations have on D20 students.
Shandy and Wilburn agreed the content does not belong in our classrooms, stating our students should know the mistakes we've made in order to prevent repeating history.
When asked about Woodland Park schools' shift to American Birthright curriculum, all of the candidates agreed students should learn about the good, bad, and ugly of American history and support a comprehensive approach to education.
Election Day is November 7
Academy D20 serves the northern neighborhoods of Colorado Springs. You can find more information on the D20 Election (including a mill levy question) from the district's site, which includes contact information for each candidate's campaign.
Ballots for this year's coordinated election go out to voters by Monday, October 16 from local Clerk and Recorder Offices. You have until 7 p.m. on Election Day (November 7) to return your ballot.
There is an additional opportunity to hear from the candidates on the night of October 16 in a forum presented by the League of Women Voters at the Education and Administration Center.
El Paso County School District No. 20 (Academy District 20) Ballot Issue 4A (Vote YES or NO)
Shall El Paso County School District No. 20 (Academy District 20) taxes be increased up to $35 million annually commencing in collection year 2024, without exceeding the current levy of 53.030 mills in 2024 through 2026, and without exceeding the voter approved mill levy cap of 60.216 beginning in 2027 for all purposes unless otherwise authorized by law; for general fund purposes including:
- increasing compensation to attract and retain high quality teachers and support staff;
- expanding armed security officers to each elementary school;
- funding the upkeep of district schools and facilities;
- providing funding for charter schools for educational purposes;
with such expenditures to be monitored by a citizens' accountability committee who report directly to the Board of Education; and shall such tax increase be an additional property tax mill levy in excess of the levy authorized for the district's general fund, pursuant to and in accordance with section 22-54-108, C.R.S?
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