School boards in Colorado are elected bodies with substantial powers, including control of instruction in the public schools of their respective districts, as well as powers over staffing, financial resources, and school facilities.
The board members’ obligations include governing on behalf of everyone in that school district—not just those who look like, believe as, worship as, or agree with the board members.
Recent actions in several school boards in the Pikes Peak Region undermine that standard.
In February 2022, Monument Academy’s Board of Directors issued a proclamation that it “shall not discriminate against individuals with regard to their personal liberty and dignity in the event that their gender is not consistent with their sex.” However, in the next sentence of the proclamation, the board contradicted itself by announcing it would refuse to abide by federal or state laws requiring recognition of “non-biological gender expression” in facilities and activities. The board claimed that this was because it would, as they determined, “violate natural law, moral truth, and expose our students to undue harm, confusion, and dysphoria.” This proclamation is, in fact, blatant discrimination and inflicts “harm, confusion, and dysphoria” on a group of students of which the Board disapproves.
Also in February 2022, Colorado Springs District 11 School Board members succeeded in pushing out the District’s Superintendent, Dr. Michael Thomas, because of an agenda to erase “equity” from the School District’s policies. Two of those Board members—Al Loma and Jason Jorgenson—have also made racist, homophobic, and transphobic comments, and are under pressure to resign or be recalled. Mr. Loma has also been criticized for pushing his personal religious beliefs in official board correspondence.
In March, District 20 School Board member Aaron Salt opened the board meeting with what he stated was a quotation from Benjamin Franklin recommending a Bible in every home. Although Salt later insisted he was exercising his freedom of speech, the reference and recommendation to any religion in a public government forum by a board member is likely a violation of separation of church and state. Our Constitution’s establishment clause prohibits all levels of government from either advancing or inhibiting religion.
Similarly, School District 49 Board Member Jamilynn D’Avola sent official district correspondence to a student urging the student as to religious beliefs and inviting a meeting with her and one other board member.
Citizens Project affirms the right of every individual to hold their own religious beliefs, or no religious beliefs, and to express those beliefs as private individuals. But it is wrong and potentially harmful for these school board members to use their official position to proselytize, proclaim, or impose their views in this matter.
Moreover, when those board members’ stated personal religious beliefs are used to make policies that discriminate against or marginalize those who believe other than the board members, it is violation of these officials’ public trust.
Citizens Project’s core values are equity, inclusion, and justice. They are not partisan. The work of school boards should follow the laws of this state, and the Constitution, and serve members of the whole community.