Monument, Colo. — Acrimony, animosity and charges of violation of state law in Lewis-Palmer School District 38 resulted in Board of Education member Sarah Sampayo resigning April 19 in protest of what she calls “emotional gang rape” by other members of the board and district staff.
Sampayo says she cannot function as a board member because of a pattern of abusive conduct by other board members and a hostile work atmosphere in the district in general. She submitted her resignation by email, effective 5 p.m. on Thursday, just before the 6 p.m. Board of Education regular meeting.
Sampayo, a Republican elected in 2015, said, “As soon as I was elected, this was the atmosphere that enveloped me: constant vitriol, false rumors, and attempts to undercut my authority, with other board members and district staff.”
“One board member repeatedly told me, ‘Nobody trusts you,’” she continued, “Constantly telling someone ‘nobody likes you,’ ‘nobody trusts you’ – when kids do it, we call it bullying. What do we call it when adults do it?”
Saying the hostile atmosphere extends beyond the school board and into the community Sampayo said, “I am repeatedly saddened to see parents with complaints about the district feeling the need to hide their identity for fear of retaliation against them or their children.”
She also claims that dissident teachers are subjected to retaliation. She said, “They say that if they voice their concern, they are given the ‘silent treatment’ or even worse, given a bad course load the next term that eliminates any free time day or night.”
“I find the climate in this district oppressive, appalling and bigoted,” said Sampayo.
Sampayo also says the board violated the Colorado Open Meetings Act in two closed executive sessions in January. She says the board discussed matters not eligible for executive session confidentiality, failed to provide the mandatory public notice by not providing adequate specificity about what was to be discussed, and by straying off the topics listed on the published agenda.
She also claims that minutes she took at one closed meeting as board secretary were later tampered with and changed.
“As secretary, when I took the meeting minutes at the January 30th 2018, executive session, I listed the numerous topics we actually discussed in addition to the ones publicly announced, but the final minutes that were typed and approved by the board in February 2018 (a meeting I was unable to attend) did not contain the full record of the minutes that I took,” she said.
Board member Chris Taylor, elected last November, said in one of the executive sessions Sampayo brought up a complaint that the district’s attorney had improperly directed the district secretary to falsify public records regarding a failure to properly audio-record a meeting, an issue that Taylor says was resolved two years earlier.
Admitting to Sampayo’s charge of violating open meetings laws, Taylor said, “What happened in executive session wasn’t on the agenda, but then again her attorney wasn’t on anybody’s agenda except hers anyway.”
A meeting at Rep. Paul Lundeen’s home shortly after the November election adds to the controversy.
Taylor said after his election, but before he was sworn in, Sampayo invited him and board member Tiffiney Upchurch, elected last November as well, to a meeting at Rep. Paul Lundeen’s home.
At the meeting, Taylor said, “there were discussions that led me to believe that we were going to act very partisan and take over the school district.”
Taylor then accused Sampayo of unethical conduct, claiming she arranged the meeting at Lundeen’s home, saying, “What is an issue is a sitting board member organizing a meeting with two newly elected board members to discuss district business.” Sampayo denies organizing the meeting, saying she was an invited guest and simply relayed the invitation.
“I’m of the opinion now that Ms. Sampayo has surrendered her individual independent judgment to others, to other individuals, and or a special interest group,” Taylor said.
Denying that the meeting at Lundeen’s home influenced her actions as a board member, Upchurch said, “I think that Chris and I have made it clear and I think that our actions have shown very clearly that we speak for ourselves, we think for ourselves and we are our own individuals and that we don’t necessarily agree with everything that’s expressed by people.”
“In full transparency I’ve also met with leaders on the Democrat side as well, and in the middle,” Upchurch continued, “Those are leaders that I respect that have a passion for education. But it doesn’t mean that I agree with what they said.” Upchurch was adamant that no laws were violated by the meeting.
At a town hall meeting Saturday, April 21 Lundeen defended the November meeting saying there is nothing improper in political allies meeting to discuss strategy and policies, even when it involves school boards. He said that the House Democratic Caucus meets “every Monday at 9 a.m.” at the Colorado Education Association offices across the street from the Capitol to hold their meeting in a room provided by the association.
There they “discuss and strategize what the land of politics should look like that week,” Lundeen said, “The reality is that the teacher’s union for decades has funded about 97 percent of the dollars for Democrat candidates.” “It is appropriate that a conversation that is around policy and politics should go forth and should happen and people should be engaged in that,” he continued.
While Taylor and Upchurch both said that they didn’t have any problem releasing the executive session tapes, Board President Matthew Clawson argued that the board should defer action on releasing the executive session tapes. “I think it would be ill-advised for us to make any decisions as to what we can release and what not to. It’s not our duty to release recordings,” he said.
Ultimately the board agreed to take no action on releasing the tapes, leaving it up to citizens or journalists to go through the legal process of having a judge release the tapes.