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Jeffco students, at rally, flirt with recall effort

Evergreen High School student Mali Holmes, center, gets a hug from a fellow student after she spoke at a rally, organized by students, to gauge interest in a possible recall of three Jefferson County board members.
Evergreen High School student Mali Holmes, center, gets a hug from a fellow student after she spoke at a rally, organized by students, to gauge interest in a possible recall of three Jefferson County board members.
Nicholas Garcia

LITTLETON — Students, incensed over what they call disrespect from their elected officials, told their suburban community today they’re prepared to lead the charge in a recall election of three school board members.

Making their public debut at a park near Columbine High School, Jeffco Students for Change told a crowd they’re ready for a change on the Jefferson County Board of Education. Board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk can make the change themselves, they said, or the students will do it for them.

“Like pawns, students are on the front lines of this issue,” said Mali Holmes, an Evergreen High School student, referring to a statements made by Witt, who called students who organized earlier walkouts pawns of the union. “But the difference is, we will not back down. We will stand together and fight until we win this battle. We will be the ones to call check mate.”

The three board members, elected nearly a year ago, have found themselves embroiled in controversy after controversy with vocal members of the Jeffco Public Schools community.

Several of the students’ speeches either called for the board to resign, improve their relationships with the community, or face a recall.

CHALKBEAT EXPLAINS: Jeffco interrupted

But student organizers said they’re still determining whether a recall is feasible. They’ll gauge how many individuals who attended the rally provided the students with contact information.

In an earlier interview, board chairman Witt said he was focused on improving student achievement, not the politics of a recall. He also encouraged students to continue to share their opinions at board meetings.

Despite months of acrid debates between some community members and the board’s majority, today’s rally is the first time any organization has hosted a public conversation regarding a recall election.

Rumors of a recall raised to a fevered pitch last spring but puttered out during the summer. In fact, some parents and board observers privately discouraged a recall because they rarely work and are extremely expensive for both organizers and the school districts. Under Colorado law, Jeffco Public Schools would have to pay for the election’s costs.

Today, it’s unclear what sort of political wherewithal a student-led recall would have, or whether reluctant parents and adult organizers would stand with them. The students organized this rally in about a week. And a parent donated the $1,000 for the park permit, organizers said.

Jeffco Students for Change, is the newest kid on a crowded block of anti-board majority organizations. It loosely formed during a week’s worth of earlier protests over a proposed board-appointed curriculum review committee.

Some students, teachers, and parents believed that committee, which would have been tasked with reviewing an advanced history course, would lead to censorship. Those students left their classrooms for the streets by the hundreds.

Jeffco board member Williams, who proposed the review committee, said critics were misinterpreting her proposal.

Ultimately, the school board, on a 3-2 vote, amended Jeffco’s curriculum review process and put it under the board’s purview.

Students behind the new organization and Saturday’s rally rejected the board majority’s claim of a compromise. There are still many details to be worked out, which the district is handling.

About 250 people, mostly parents, attended the rally. The audience waived signs while students spoke and local bands, Red Fox Run and From Thin Air, provided musical entertainment.

Some local political campaigns took advantage of the rally including State Board of Education member Jane Goff, who is running for re-election. Goff had volunteers there. Her opponent, Laura Boggs, a former Jefferson County Board of Education member herself, stopped by. Some parents vocally shooed her away.

“We don’t want you here,” one parent yelled.

Lt. Gov. Joe Garcia, who was out campaigning himself, also made an unannounced stop at the rally.

Meanwhile, other rally attendees played hacky sack, ate ice cream, and updated their voter registration.

“If you are of legal age to vote, then make your voice heard at all levels,” said Kyle Ferris, a Columbine High School student. “Many people didn’t vote in the school board election because they didn’t feel like it was important — and look where that got us.”

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