A political committee funded by the Denver teachers union apologized Thursday night for an attack ad decried as racist by the school board candidates it targeted.
The mailer was sent by an independent expenditure committee called Students Deserve Better. It identified candidates Alexis Menocal Harrigan and Diana Romero Campbell as “Alexis Harrigan” and “Diana Campbell,” a tactic the candidates said erases their Latina identities.
At first, Students Deserve Better defended the mailer, telling Chalkbeat on Thursday morning that those denouncing the mailer were “trying to distract” voters from the real issues, including that Menocal Harrigan and Romero Campbell support charter schools. The teachers union opposes the publicly funded but independently run schools.
But on Thursday evening, after Chalkbeat published a story and a long list of elected officials denounced the mailer, Students Deserve Better issued another statement.
“Students Deserve Better want(s) to directly apologize to Alexis Menocal Harrigan and Diana Romero Campbell, two Latina candidates whose names were misrepresented,” the statement said. “That was never our intent. We understand and take full responsibility for the hurt and anger we caused in our community, one we care so deeply about. We love our students, their families, and the social fabric that makes Denver so special and diverse.”
More than half of the 93,000 students in Denver Public Schools are Latino.
Students Deserve Better is funded by the Denver Classroom Teachers Association and the Colorado Education Association. The Denver teachers union distanced itself from the mailer Thursday, saying it does not coordinate with independent expenditure committees.
“Our error is ours alone,” Students Deserve Better said, “not the fault of the Denver Classroom Teachers Association (DCTA) or the Colorado Education Association (CEA).”
The statement was emailed to Chalkbeat by a Denver Public Schools teacher who identified himself only as Aaron. The statement was not signed by any individuals. Chalkbeat later confirmed that the email came from Aaron Lowenkron, a math teacher at East High.
Students Deserve Better pledged to use Menocal Harrigan and Romero Campbell’s full names from now on. But the statement noted that voters can expect at least one more mailer from the committee with the misrepresented names.
“In the next day or two, there will be an additional mail piece that went out before we were able to correct our mistake,” the statement said. “Voters deserve to know where candidates stand. Hopefully, we can all move forward to focus on the issues that impact students.”
Update, Tuesday, Oct. 22: The second mailer has dropped. It largely repeats claims from the first mailer and cites Chalkbeat stories as the source for those claims. The majority of the claims are not supported by the referenced articles. For a more thorough fact check, read this story.
Update, Friday, Oct. 25: This story has been updated with the full name of Aaron Lowenkron, who spoke on behalf of Students Deserve Better.