A work session that was to include a brief presentation on the next steps after the release of an independent report that exonerated two Douglas County Board of Education members from bullying a student was cut short after members of the audience couldn’t stop disrupting the meeting and yelling at board members.
Board President Meghann Silverthorn ended the meeting before the agenda was complete after several warnings she would do so if audience members did not stop yelling from their seats.
Some audience members shouted “resign Silverthorn, resign Reynolds” in support of Ponderosa High School student
Grace Davis, whose claims of being bullied and intimidated were dismissed in the report.
Silverthorn and Reynolds did have supporters in the audience who booed every time the chant began or someone yelled disparaging remarks.
Opponents claim a conflict of interest with the main investigator Gordon Netzorg. They told the Colorado Independent that Netzorg “happens to be an attorney for both board members’ biggest campaign contributor.”
However, Complete Colorado checked Netzorg’s own campaign contributions on TRACER, Colorado’s campaign finance website, and found that most of Netzorg’s contributions have gone to Democrats, many of whom are highly supportive of teachers unions. Netzorg has donated to prominent Democratic policymakers like Andy Kerr, Dave Young, Roy Romer, John Hickenlooper, Mark Udall, and President Barack Obama.
The 45-page report was released by the school district on Monday after a month-long independent investigation by the law firm of Sherman & Howard. The firm looked into allegations that Meghann Silverthorn and Judith Reynolds were in violation of the district’s handbook, state law, the district’s Code of Conduct, and even the First Amendment.
Investigators said in the report they had “not found evidence that directors Silverthorn and Reynolds violated any express board or district policy in conducting the March 4, 2016, meeting with (Grace) Davis or in their subsequent conduct relevant to this investigation.”
The report also concluded that three members of the board, Anne-Marie Lemieux, Wendy Vogel, and David Ray have engaged in many of the same activities they attribute to malice on the parts of Silverthorn and Reynolds, attempted to infringe on the two directors’ First Amendment rights, and effectively censured the two women in the absence of a full investigation and without following the procedures outlined by the district’s Code of Conduct.
However, Lemieux, Vogel, and Ray contend that the two conservative board members should still step down from their positions because their actions were perceived by some to be wrong. Ray did not attend the meeting.
According to his Facebook page, Ray has a conflict on Tuesday evening with graduate classes. He said on his page, however, that he chose to miss this meeting because he would “not sit through another meeting only to hear that it will take an additional two months to possibly make amends for her wrong treatment. … This has gone from the unacceptable to the deplorable and I choose not to participate in such absurdity.”
During the meeting, board member Doug Benevento said an investigator from Sherman and Howard would discuss the report at its July 19 meeting and answer any questions board members may have.
Before Benevento could speak, however, Lemieux, who often argues with the board majority members, stomped away from her seat to the back of the room after she was not selected to act as chairwoman for that portion of the meeting.
“Since I’ve been left out of the process to this point,” Lemieux told Silverthorn. “I’ll go stand in the back of the room, and when ya’ll are done, I’ll come back.”
Lemieux’s remarks were made after Silverthorn refused to allow a vote on who would lead the discussion on the report. Silverthorn has recused herself from that portion of the discussion. She has chosen Benevento to lead that portion of any meeting, but Vogel wanted to take a vote to nominate Lemieux. However, under Roberts Rules of Order, no vote can be taken in a work session.
Silverthorn spoke on the Ross Kaminsky show Wednesday morning about the meeting and her decision to end it early. She said after the presentation on capital expenditures, the meeting got considerably worse.
““We had to recess the meeting because it was just impossible to hear one another, much less carry on. It was so unfortunate,” she said on KHOW 630 AM. …”It got disruptive enough that I just had to stop the meeting. I don’t know that I’ve encountered a meeting quite like that in my tenure on the board.”
Before the meeting, several dozen teachers, students, and parents protested the report’s findings outside district headquarters. John Ford, president of The Jefferson County Education Association, was seen at the protest. Ford was heavily involved in the recall of three reform board members in Jefferson County last year. He has since touted that successful strategy to union leaders from other parts of the country.
JCEA is the local affiliate of the Colorado Education Association, which is the state affiliate of the National Education Association. Unions, including JCEA, contributed heavily to the both the recall campaign in Jeffco and the campaigns of the slate of three candidates put up to replace them.
Douglas County has no collective bargaining agreement, although the Douglas County Federation of Teachers (DCFT), a local affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), is still active in the district.
Ford did not return a request for comment on his role in the protest – which was similar in scope to the disruptions in Jeffco last year – or whether his presence in Douglas County signals interest in a potentially lucrative contract in Douglas County on the part of the Colorado Education Association.
Silverthorn called Ford’s presence “interesting” during her interview with Kaminsky, who raised the idea that the teachers unions are feeling powerful after what happened in Jeffco and are now coming for Douglas County.
Silverthorn said she was not expecting the level of spectacle that happened last night.
“I think this is a common problem of different ideological movements,” Silverthorn said. “Some are more prepared than others. And I do agree — I think we have a lot of important work in our district. There are certainly improvements that we can make — but for folks to behave like this over something like that, yes, I think there are other agendas at work here.”
Silverthorn told Kaminsky she would rather see people get down to the work of the district.
“People have a natural inclination to be involved with their kids’ education,” Silverthorn told Kaminsky. “So for anybody whose goal is not to further the education of the kids, I would really just like for them to say, why am I really here, examine their own self. Read some of their social media comments out loud and say ‘is this really what we want for our community?’
“We need to find a way to move past it and work together as a district. … The idea for some people to be made an example out of for this kind of thing, I guess it’s going to have a chilling effect. We have to make policy that says what’s acceptable and what’s not acceptable? Well, according to who? That’s what I want to know.”