DOUGLAS COUNTY–Self-described Littleton anti-oppression activist Regan Byrd was paid $2,100 by the Douglas County School District to present two lectures to 7th and 8th grade students at Ranch View Middle School, one Feb. 27 and the other April 29, eight days before the Highlands Ranch STEM school shooting.
Byrd’s presentations raised concerns among district educators, parents and residents about the content, which some feel is anti-police and overly biased, according to emails and documents obtained by Complete Colorado.
Byrd’s April 29 presentation to the 8th grade class begins with a video of a notorious 2016 incident in Columbia, S.C. where a sheriff’s deputy was recorded yanking a female student out of her chair and dragging her across the floor while arresting her for refusing to turn over her cellphone.
In that lecture Byrd showed video of this incident three times, once in slow-motion, and later described another notorious police abuse case in Baltimore where Freddie Gray, after being arrested, ended up in a coma and later died from a spinal injury allegedly suffered when police failed to secure him in a seat belt in a police transport van.
According to Byrd, who was interviewed by Complete Colorado on Thursday, her focus on police brutality has been mischaracterized.
“I spend about ten minutes or so talking about the school resource officers, some aspects of police brutality and what I think is problematic behavior from police as an institution,” said Byrd. “I was disappointed that it got communicated as if that was the only thing I was talking about as if I’m anti-police, where I actually think I’m pro-better police”
Ranch View parent Kim Donahue disagrees. Donahue told Complete Colorado in an interview that she removed her 14-year-old daughter from the April 29 presentation after her on-line research of Byrd’s program led to concerns about bias.
“Some of the topics that were on that list were white anti-racist ally-ship, anti-oppression, the history of police in America, the history of race and white supremacy and dismantling toxic masculinity,” said Donahue. “What I found was that she is highly anti-white, anti-male and anti-cop, which I am not going to be a part of.”
Ranch View principal Tanner Fitch responded to Donahue’s email withdrawing her daughter for the day saying, “Our intention is of course not for [Byrd] to send any messages of anti-police, anti-white, or anti-male.”
This would be Byrd’s second presentation, and she was warned to tone down her material after the Feb. 27 presentation to 7th grade students.
In response to negative comments from his staff and community members, Fitch then disinvited Byrd, saying Byrd’s presentation left students “with a different impression and message than we had hoped for and resulted in concerns being expressed to us from community members.”
In a March 14 email Byrd complained to the district about being disinvited. The email was sent to both Fitch and district superintendent Thomas Tucker.
Tucker responded less than 45 minutes later, sending an email to Lydia Henderson, the district’s human resources officer saying, “Lydia – I would like for you and our Equity Team to reach out to Ms. Byrd and, perhaps, find a way for her to deliver this important message to our community.”
The next day, before Byrd met with school officials to discuss what the school’s expectations were for the second lecture, the district created another invoice for $1,050 for Byrd’s services.
Fitch and school counselor Ian Wells met with Byrd around April 22 or 23, prior to the presentation and expressed their concerns about her method and subject matter.
In an April 30 email to district public information officer Paula Hans describing what they talked about with Byrd, Fitch wrote, “In her first presentation, she gave the impression to students that all police were oppressive. We told her to be aware than many of our students have parents who are in law enforcement, so steer away from focusing so much on police brutality. We asked her to focus more on how the concept of oppression can lead to bullying as opposed to using police brutality as examples.”
When asked by Complete Colorado about her focus on police brutality Regan said, “I want police to be thinking about themselves as a system, themselves as an institution. I thought my message was inspiring, uplifting.”
Asked about whether her presentation should be counterbalanced by other points of view Byrd said, “There is no other side of what I’m talking about unless you’re going to bring in a white nationalist or something.”
Asked about her knowledge of anti-bias training in policing Byrd said, “I know a lot about how law enforcement officers are trained. I know that folks are not getting adequate anti-racism, anti-bias training at all.”
Byrd also complained, “Somebody surreptitiously recorded [the April 29 presentation] and posted it on a Facebook page. They weren’t there. they didn’t understand the content.”
According to Fitch’s statements to Hans on Byrd’s first presentation, neither did the students.
It is unclear what if any changes were made to the second presentation as the first one was not recorded.
Byrd says she holds a 2010 bachelor’s degree in public policy and sociology from the University of Denver. She admits that she has no formal educational training. She says she has been giving these presentations for about a year and a half, partly in response to President Trump’s election.
Attempts to contact Superintendent Tucker and Principal Fitch for comment were unsuccessful as of press time Friday.
After being contacted twice to arrange an interview with Tucker, Hans responded saying, “We are still looking into it and don’t have anything to provide at this point.”