do you hear the people sing?

Jeffco student protests continue; Littleton rally tops 1,000

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Chatfield High School junior Scott Romano lead a protest of students from his school and Dakota Ridge in Littleton. Jeffco students have been rallying against a proposed curriculum committee for four school days.

[Updated] LITTLETON — Stretching on for a fourth school day, students from some of Jefferson County’s largest high schools gathered at a busy intersection here to echo concerns about a proposed curriculum committee they believe could lead to censorship and show solidarity with their teachers.

The rally appeared to be the largest thus far. More than half of the 1,900 students at Chatfield High School, coupled with hundreds of students from Dakota Ridge walked, ran, and drove up and down a stretch of Simms Street shortly after classes were supposed to start at the two schools.

According to the Denver Post, students at Bear Creek High School also walked out this morning. Chalkbeat also confirmed students at Alameda International High School walked out after meeting with Jeffco’s Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Students, as they returned to school,  told Chalkbeat McMinimee wasn’t answering their questions.

“He didn’t listen to what we had to say,” said Regina Rios, a sophomore at Alameda High.

McMinimee told 7News later he wasn’t dodging questions — he just doesn’t have the answers yet.

“I do understand there was some frustration from some of the kids around feeling like I was trying to not answer their questions, but that’s because we’re not there in the process yet — haven’t had the discussion about how this committee might affect AP US History,” McMinimee told 7NEWS after the meeting. “The discussion [among Board members] was about the formation of the committee.”

Including Alameda, students at 13 of the district’s 19 high schools have walked out.

“I’m just so proud of them, the students, the teachers, the parents, for standing up,” said Cindy Heyerdahl, a Jefferson County resident who sent three students to the locals schools. Heyerdahl held back tears as she watched the students chat from a near by gas station.

But not all are impressed with the student-organized action.

“If I was a student, I’d want a day off, too,” said another gentleman at the gas station. “I think that’s why most are out here.”

Unlike earlier protests, the Littleton students, boisterous and sweaty, were under supervision by school administrators, coaches, and teachers. Some of the district’s highest ranking central administrators were also on hand with sheriffs.

The ongoing protests, which are likely to continue through the week, have drawn the attention of the national media and scrutiny of social media. A playful but critical thread of comments, marked by the hashtag “#jeffcoschoolboardhistory” was trending on the social media service Twitter last night.

For previous coverage of the student protests and background on the the proposed committee click here. 

 

Lights - camera - action

Relive the Jefferson County school board recall in 12 minutes

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Recall supporter Cecelia Lange waved signs at 52nd and Wadsworth Tuesday morning.

What can a school board election tell us about American democracy?

Well, if that school board race happens to be in Jefferson County, involve the nation’s largest teachers union and one of the country’s most influential conservative nonprofit groups … quite a bit, actually.

At least that’s the premise of a new documentary short film, “Million-Dollar School Board” by independent filmmakers Louis Alvarez, Andy Kolker and Paul Stekler. 

The film chronicles the high-profile school board race — which included debates about how history should be taught and how teachers should get paid — that ended with three conservative members being ousted by a coalition of teachers, parents and community members. More than $1 million was poured into the campaign from all sides, hence the film’s title.

The Jeffco film is part of a nine-part series of short documentaries, “Postcards from The Great Divide,” released in a digital partnership between PBS’ Election 2016 initiative and The Washington Post, funded by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Latino Public Broadcasting, with a PBS broadcast on the World Channel.

The goal is to answer this question:

As substantial interest group money flows down into even local races, does it also bring the same stark ideological and partisan divisions that mark our national politics today into debates that were once totally separate from Washington?

You can view the roughly 12-minute film in its entirety here:

Then reread a sampling of our coverage:

 

full disclosure

Teachers unions gave huge sums of seed money to Jeffco recall, new records show

PHOTO: Nicholas Garcia
Organizers of a school board recall effort in Jefferson County, from left, Michael Blanton, Wendy McCord, and Tina Gurdikian, spoke at the campaign kick off event in July.

National and local teachers unions provided more than $265,000 to a nonprofit group that served as a catalyst to recall three conservative school board members in Jefferson County.

That is according to campaign disclosures filed Thursday in response to a judge’s order that the group, Jeffco United, disclose its donors.

The organization, a social welfare nonprofit with tax-exempt status, was established in May and received its first donation — $25,000 — from the Colorado Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union. In total, the CEA gave $113,500 to the group, records show.

The national union was even more generous. The National Education Association gave $150,000 to Jeffco United in late August.

Complete Colorado — an arm of the free-market think tank The Independence Institute, supported the recalled school board members — first reported the NEA contribution.

The disclosures shed significant new light on who bankrolled the high-profile recall, which opponents of the conservative board majority repeatedly described as a broad community-based effort. But the full picture of the financial forces on both sides of the campaign remains incomplete, because of lax state and federal reporting requirements.

Who gave to Jeffco United? |
• National Education Association, $150,000
• Colorado Education Association, $113,500
• Jefferson County Education Association, $20,000
• All other individuals, $3,115

“This is all we asked for,” said Dede Laugesen, director of Colorado Government Watch, the El Paso County-based organization that filed the complaint against Jeffco United. “It is only too bad voters did not have this information before the election.”

Lynea Hansen, spokeswoman for Jeffco United, said it would be a mistake to say the recall was “union-led.”

“This was a parent-led and parent-organized recall,” Hansen said. “But parents can’t raise the kind of money to compete with the kind of out-of-state money that keeps coming into Colorado. This is the way the game is set up. We’re playing by the rules that we’re given.”

Kerrie Dallman, president of the Colorado Education Association, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Jeffco United eventually launched two sister political committees to finance the recall and the election of a five-candidate slate. Most of that money — more than $200,000 — was raised locally.

Those committees raised and publically disclosed hundreds of thousands of dollars, including a large donation from Jeffco United early in the campaign.

An administrative court judge last week ruled that Jeffco United violated the state’s campaign finance laws. The judge found there was enough evidence to suggest that Jeffco United’s “major purpose” was to spearhead the recall of Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk.

Typically, social welfare nonprofits — such as One Colorado, Progress Now and Americans For Prosperity — are allowed to raise money without disclosing their donors and then donate a portion to political committees, which are required to disclose donors to the secretary of state.

It’s common practice for advocacy organizations to operate multiple fundraising and spending apparatuses including 527s, independent expenditure committees and issue committees.

However, under Colorado law if an organization’s “major purpose” is to act only on a singular political issue, it must file as a political committee with the secretary of state and not as a nonprofit.

Judge Robert N. Spencer, in his decision, found Support Jeffco Kids — another group named in the original complaint — had an established track record of work on a variety of issues, therefore it did not violate the “major purpose” law.

Spencer’s decision only applies to Jeffco United.

Other nonprofits, including Colorado Independent Action, which acted similarly to Jeffco United, came to the aid of the recall targets. Independent Action, like Complete Colorado, is an arm of the Independence Institute, which does not disclose its donors.

Ousted board chairman Witt said the institute has a long track record for supporting politicians who champion for expanding school choice.

“I don’t think there was any surprise in those organizations being strong advocates for what we’re doing,” Witt said. He added, “I’m delighted that the truth has finally come out.”

The transparency watchdog organization Colorado Ethics Watch earlier this month called on lawmakers to revisit the state’s campaign finance laws that govern school board races.