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Voices: Targets of Dougco's CORAgate

Dougco parent Delana Maynes argues the Douglas County school board is chipping away at parents’ First Amendment rights by threatening those whose emails were snared in CORAgate.

I read with great interest Douglas County School Board Director Justin William’s piece on what is becoming known as CORAgate. Director Williams praises the work of Parent Led Reform and is concerned “that some of the most engaged parents in our school district are currently under attack by outside special interest groups and their allies.”

What Williams failed to mention was that the 19 community members targeted in Parent Led Reform’s original CORA request can also be identified as some of the most engaged parents in the district. They include School Accountability Committee leaders, PTA presidents and officers, school fundraising gurus, parents who promote positive activities like Cub Scouts and Girl Scouts and most importantly, parents who have logged thousands of hours as classroom volunteers.

What did these 19 have in common? Parent Led Reform assumed (incorrectly, in some cases) that they were associated with groups like the Strong Schools Coalition.

The Strong Schools Coalition is truly an indigenous group founded in Douglas County by parents and community members. The group is not associated with nor does it receive funding from any political party or union and they have not engaged in tactics that try to “distract the district from the kids’ education.” They have not attempted “to halt our innovative education approach in Douglas County.” There is no evidence of an attack on the school district by the Strong Schools Coalition.

“Just a mom” claim a little disingenuous

The Strong Schools Coalition has simply tried to hold the district accountable on budget matters, the Board of Education accountable for it excessively long executive sessions and acknowledge the results of recent parent and staff surveys stating that the majority of parents and teachers do no believe the district is heading in the right direction.

The Strong Schools Coalition works to inform and engage the community and to positively impact the Douglas County School District by “delivering factual and complete communications to the entire community.”

The Strong Schools Coalition’s only crime is that the school board has pegged it as a group that is against their agenda, when in fact the Strong Schools Coalition has offered to work with the district to improve transparency, accountability and communication on numerous occasions.

Mr. Williams’ assertion that Karin Piper is “just a mom” and Parent Led Reform is a homegrown Douglas County movement is a little disingenuous. Ms. Piper is a founder of Parent Led Reform who now receives funding for her work. She also is an editor for The Open Government Institute, which shares office space with the conservative think tank, the Independence Institute. She has links to the conservative Leadership Program of the Rockies and the Douglas County GOP.

In fact, Parent Led Reform’s project, I Stand with DougCo Kids, is connected to The Center for Union Facts, which was created in 2006 by a Washington, D.C.-based lobbyist to influence public opinion against unions.

It seems the only thing homegrown about Parent Led Reform is that many of its members were recipients of vouchers, later shot down by the courts. Parent Led Reform is just another branch of the well-funded and well-organized reform lobby set on destroying unions and privatizing education.

Don’t tread on First Amendment rights

Mr. Williams ended his article with a threat, “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.”

Mr. Williams’ claim that there is a law against abusing public email systems is absurd. No branch of government has the right to tell a private citizen who they can and cannot email and what the contents of those emails should be.

Are private citizens abusing a public email system when we send our comments and concerns to our Board of Education or District Accountability representatives? Can’t I tell my elected officials through public email to support this amendment or this candidate? Can’t I send my son’s teacher information about President Obama’s education platform?

Of course I can. As a matter of fact, the First Amendment specifically protects a citizen’s right to free speech, especially political speech, and Mr. Williams best be careful to not tread on those rights.

Though the district seems to have little interest in listening to the opinions of those who oppose them, one would hope that they would be interested in defending all of their stakeholders’ First Amendment rights.

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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