MAGA School Board Faces Backlash in ColoradoBreaking News
tags: social studies, MAGA, School Boards, Local Politics
WOODLAND PARK, Colo. — When a conservative slate of candidates won control of the school board here 18 months ago, they began making big changes to reshape the district.
Woodland Park, a small mountain town that overlooks Pikes Peak, became the first — and, so far, only — district in the country to adopt the American Birthright social studies standard, created by a right-wing advocacy group that warns of the “steady whittling away of American liberty.” The new board hired a superintendent who was previously recalled from a nearby school board after pushing for a curriculum that would “promote positive aspects of the United States.” The board approved the community’s first charter school without public notice and gave the charter a third of the middle school building.
As teachers, students and parents began protesting these decisions, the administration barred employees from discussing the district on social media. At least two staff members who objected to the board’s decisions were later forced out of their jobs, while another was fired for allegedly encouraging protests.
These rapid and sweeping shifts weren’t coincidental — instead it was a plan ripped from the MAGA playbook designed to catch opponents off guard, according to a board member’s email released through an open records request.
“This is the flood the zone tactic, and the idea is if you advance on many fronts at the same time, then the enemy cannot fortify, defend, effectively counter-attack at any one front,” David Illingworth, one of the new conservative school board members, wrote to another on Dec. 9, 2021, weeks after they were elected. “Divide, scatter, conquer. Trump was great at this in his first 100 days.”
The leaders of the Woodland Park School District are enacting an experiment in conservative governance in the middle of a state controlled by Democrats, with little in the way so far to slow them down. The school board’s decisions have won some praise in heavily Republican Teller County, but opposition is growing, including from conservative Christians and lifelong GOP voters who say the board has made too many ill-advised decisions and lacks transparency.
“I think they look at us as this petri dish where they can really push all their agenda and theories,” said Joe Dohrn, a Woodland Park father who described himself as a staunch Republican and “very capitalistic.” “They clearly are willing to sacrifice the public school and to put students presently in the public school through years of disarray to drive home their ideological beliefs. It’s a travesty.”
At the first board meeting in January with Witt as superintendent, the board voted to adopt the American Birthright social studies curriculum standard. No social studies teachers had been consulted prior to the vote, according to three current employees and an administrator who asked to speak anonymously to protect their employment.
American Birthright materials emphasize patriotism, argue that the federal government should have no authority over public schools and say teachers should not encourage civic engagement, such as registering to vote or petitioning local lawmakers on issues students care about.
“It is terribly important to be a disengaged citizen, and indeed, a disengaged student,” said David Randall, research director at the National Association of Scholars, a conservative organization that created the standards last year.