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Voices: Bullied by special interest groups in Dougco

Douglas County school board member Justin Williams pledges to pursue action against those who may have misused the district’s email system to play politics.

Just when you think you’ve seen it all, you see something even worse.

After serving as a director of the Douglas County School District through tough union bargaining and an ACLU lawsuit stopping 500 of our students from going to their schools of choice – I thought nothing would shock me.

I was wrong.

I am so disappointed to say that some of the most engaged parents in our school district are currently under attack by outside special interest groups and their allies.

Parent Led Reform or PLR is a statewide network of parents dedicated to leading reforms for the betterment of our children’s education. It is with great pride that I say that this organization was founded right here in Douglas County by a mother of three, Ms. Karin Piper, who still today will introduce herself as “just a mom.”

Parent Led Reform has acted as an education watchdog for various school districts and the Legislature, keeping elected folks like myself accountable by supporting good work and not being afraid to let us know when policies are not in the best interest of families and kids.

It’s a tough group indeed; but very necessary in the discussion about education, which tends to favor bureaucracy over kids.

Recently, Parent Led Reform acted on complaints from the community that several pro-union groups were allegedly using school emails to push out campaign materials and recruit for their efforts to distract the district from the kids’ education. These groups are well-known for their Saul Alinsky-style tactics in attempting to disrupt and halt our innovative education approach in Douglas County.

What Parent Led Reform discovered is alarming

What PLR found is very alarming to me as an elected leader for Douglas County Schools, but even more so as a father. Through a Colorado Open Records Act request, PLR uncovered hundreds of emails in the public record which could be a breach of campaign laws, unsolicited recruitment to pro-union political groups and even recruitment letters by these political groups posted directly in student school district Google accounts.

All of the emails are public record, meaning that under the law any citizen – including you – has the right to view them. I am sincerely thankful to Ms. Piper and Parent Led Reform for bringing this matter to our attention through her diligent search through open, public records. It’s a painstaking job that newspapers, journals, news shows and magazine investigators use as a matter of routine to expose abuses in government. That parents have found out how to use these open records is a model of how transparency can work on the behalf of taxpayers.

I take this matter extremely seriously. It is my role as a steward of this school district to protect our staff and kids from outsiders who abuse our system. I can assure the readers that our school district is investigating the matter.

If the story ended there, we could all celebrate a victory and be proud.

But Ms. Piper, and the parents of Parent Led Reform, who have modeled integrity and professionalism by not releasing the names or emails in question – although this is public information – have been asked to pay a steep cost.

While PLR is protecting the anonymity of these records for the sake of a fair investigation, Ms. Piper and her volunteers are now the object of bullying and intimidation tactics by the same groups that are being investigated.

Ms. Piper and the other parents have been named and shamed publicly by those who have been caught in this scandal. Volunteers have received threatening letters to their homes, and their children have become the topic of discussion on social media boards. Some have even suggested that teachers “hate” having “these parents’ children” in their class.

These political groups have also sent out alerts to parents trying to scare them from sending their teachers emails and warnings that public information is designed to violate the integrity of student confidentiality. The very nerve!

It is with great difficulty I am writing this without naming the individuals participating in the bullying of Ms. Piper and her parent volunteers. I only refrain to honor Parent Led Reform with the same virtues of stewardship that they continue to stoically model.

But rest assured that I will not sit on the sidelines watching our parents being subject to this type of behavior. I sharply remind those who are attacking our families that libel, slander and harassment are against the law. The same goes for campaign violations or abusing public communication resources.

To Parent Led Reform, I say thank you! Thank you for continuing your important work in Colorado’s education, for holding us accountable and for not backing down when the going gets tough.

Parental involvement is the key to a child’s success. Thank you for redefining the role of parental involvement in education reform.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.

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