Dec 1, 2022 • 1HR 20M

Another win for our democracy-The verdict in the Oath Keepers seditious conspiracy case

And the public comments of the most recent Board of Education public meeting along with other updates.

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Episode details
A member of the Estes Valley Community speaking during the public comment section of Monday’s Board of Education meeting.

In today’s episode, I cover yesterday’s landmark verdict of my former employer, Stewart Rhodes. According to the New York Times:

Stewart Rhodes, the leader of the far-right Oath Keepers militia, was convicted on Tuesday along with one of his subordinates of seditious conspiracy as a jury found them guilty of seeking to keep former President Donald J. Trump in power through an extensive plot that started after the 2020 election and culminated in the mob attack on the Capitol.

The jury in Federal District Court in Washington found three other defendants in the case not guilty of sedition and acquitted Mr. Rhodes of two separate conspiracy charges.

The split verdicts, coming after three days of deliberations, were a landmark — if not total — victory for the Justice Department, which poured enormous effort into prosecuting Mr. Rhodes and his four co-defendants.

The sedition convictions marked the first time in nearly 20 trials related to the Capitol attack that a jury had decided that the violence that erupted on Jan. 6, 2021, was the product of an organized conspiracy.

Also, in today’s episode, we listen to the recording of the public comment section of Monday Estes Park School District’s Board of Education regular meeting. I then read two additional letters I have received from Estes Park Community members sharing their thoughts and feelings on the Charter School Application to the board by Loveland Classical Schools.

Please Note the two letters to the Board of Education are at the bottom of this email.

Here is the link to my interview on Chris Cuomo’s new show on NewsNation from last night’s coverage.

Unfortunately, the panel discussion I was a part of last night on MSNBC’s 11th Hour is not yet posted to the internet, but this video recap does include some of my footage.

Here is the local affiliate KDVR Fox 31’s interview with me from last night:

Here is the link to the RMPBS documentary on the historical rise of fascism I spoke about in the episode.

Letter 1

There seems to be a narrative being shared with the charter application that our schools are failing students.  This is on the coattails of the national narrative that students fared poorly with the disruption to education during the pandemic.  Our school district certainly faced some challenges, but we did not follow this pathway.  I think it’s important to communicate with our students, families and community about all the positives that are happening with our district.  We are certainly NOT failing our students.

I read through the Loveland Classical School- Estes Valley (LCS-EV) application. I have a number of concerns about the reasoning behind the school, the impact on our district and current students, and sustainability.  Here are my main concerns.

  • There is a claim that the LCS curriculum will better meet student needs.  I taught in a Core Knowledge school previously and it is a viable curriculum.  However, the curriculum being used in EPSD is meeting student needs as evidenced by test scores.

  • LCS schools compared to other schools with similar demographics show them performing in the bottom or bottom third.  EPSD’s elementary and middle school is performing in the top or top third when using the same comparison.  It’s also important to note that we have significantly higher numbers of students who are ELL compared to any of these schools.  

  • There is no clear plan for transportation other than a rideshare app idea.  This discriminates against our low socioeconomic families who need reliable transportation. The ride share app may work in Loveland, but the Estes Valley area has a wider and more challenging geographical footprint to pull this off.  

  • There were some ideas in the application for lunches, but not a clear plan.  How will this affect students who qualify for Free and Reduced lunches?

  • There was no information on how LCS-EV would provide extra-curricular activities and sports.  Would they expect to have students join the EPSD clubs and teams?

  • The initial numbers on the application don’t seem to add up to their anticipated enrollment for their year one. Only a portion of the students they mention would be eligible.  This would mean they are planning on recruiting students from our existing schools to get the numbers needed to start. 

  • The pastor of Cornerstone Church, Bruce Finger, serves on the LSC board.  The church would receive a minimum of $50,000 for renovations.  This seems to be a conflict of interest.  If the school did start, but was not sustainable, the church would still benefit. If another church on their application was chosen instead then they would still benefit from renovations.  

  • According to ECEA 4.08, the school district is still responsible for Special Education compliance.  How would this work if the district didn’t receive funding, but still needed to be responsible?

  • LCS has their own appointed board.  The LCS-EV school would be included with the Loveland board.  This takes away local control and our Board of Education would have no say in how funds are spent. Is our community ok with having a board in another town govern the funding from our district?

  • The legal representation, Miller Farmer Law, from LCS is also representing other classical charter schools. They are pushing for Charter Networks across the state.  This law firm stands to make a lot of money with these expansions.  See recent applications for Ascent Classical schools and what is going on in Durango and Ignacio.  

  • The application suggests using money from the LCS reserves.  This money would have been collected with the intent of using it for students in the Thompson School District.  Is this ok with Loveland taxpayers?  CO Rev Stat § 22-30.5-104.7 (2016) does state that funds from MLOs and bonds cannot be used to support ‘for a school authorized by one authorizer to support a school authorized by a different authorizer.’ 

  • Typically school districts keep some money in their reserves, but LCS has about 6 million dollars.  Why isn’t this money being spent to invest in their current students rather than try to start a network?  

  • The EPSD has seen a decline in students in the past ten years due to cost of living, low wages and lack of affordable housing.  LCS-EV projects an increase of students in their plan.  This does not seem sustainable with our trends.  Declining enrollment in the Denver area is causing many charters to close.

  • A number of years ago we combined our primary and intermediate schools to cut back on the costs of running an extra building.  Is it financially sound to add another building back into how our per pupil funding is being spent?

  • ‘Teachers’ at LCS do not need to be highly qualified and the pay also reflects this.  How does LCS-EV plan to recruit and retain staff?  The cost of living in Loveland is 12% less than in Estes Park.  The biggest issue is housing with the difference in median home cost being 25% less in Loveland.  The EPSD is still trying to hire for positions this school year and we are close to halfway through it.  

  • What are the enrollment numbers at LCS for October count and then at the end of the school year?  Schools get per pupil funding based on October count.  Do they retain consistent numbers all school year? LCS-EV would keep per pupil funding for any student who un-enrolls after October count and returns to EPES or EPMS.

  • Our school district would lose 5 teaching positions with their initial proposal of 108 students.  Some charters take on teachers displaced and keep their current salary.  This does not seem to be the case for LCS.  These are teachers who have worked hard and are invested in our students and community that would lose their jobs.

Some of the messaging I’ve heard states that LCS-EV school would provide choice.  I’m certainly not opposed to having choices.  However, this particular charter in our small, rural district does not seem sustainable over time.  It would also be a detriment to our current schools and negatively affect all the great things we are doing right now.  We have a new head administration team within the past year (Ruby Bode, Carmen Williams and Sundee Pietsch) and there is such positive momentum.  I’m wondering if the folks who are supporting this charter application have reached out with what they would like to see for our school district since there is a new admin team to work with. We are only better when we work together. 

Thank you for considering these questions as you embark on making the decision for this charter application.  It sounds like there are three possible outcomes:  deny, approve with conditions or approve. I strongly encourage you to deny this application to do what is best for ALL of our students, our district and our community.  This would be a risky investment for a school that hasn’t shown great performance at their Loveland campuses.  I, as a taxpayer, would prefer to keep the same level of funding for our current schools so that we can continue to support our students with their achievement and growth.

Letter 2

I would like to add my objection to the proposal to have Loveland Classical Schools open a charter school in Estes Park, for the following reasons:

I am not a Constitutional scholar, but I know that the concept of "separation of church and state" evolved from the language of the First Amendment, with the relevant portion being "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."  One part of the interpretation of that is that there shall not be a national religion.  Until recently that also meant that religious organizations would be essentially tax exempt, and that (non-sectarian) tax revenues would not be used to support sectarian organizations.  

As the LCS-EV is proposed, it will have classrooms in a Church.  An LCS Board member (Rev. Finger) is the pastor of a Church in Estes Park, and the rest of the Board will be appointed.  By whom? The application makes many references to virtues, ethics, morality, and souls, characteristics that are in the usual purview of the Church.   There are limitations on what will be taught (e.g., excluding certain conflicts, human sexuality, human evolution) that again imply a belief system such as religion rather than open access to knowledge as an evolving process.  The teachers will be hired by the Board, and do not have to be Colorado state certified or licensed in any way, which could mean they do not have the years of instruction in teaching skills, one of which is to be non-judgmental, nor the supervised classroom experience in their training.

This proposal wishes to use school district tax-based funding to support a particular sectarian orientation.  This would be using government funds to promote a narrow religious view of what constitutes education, and this does violate the First Amendment proscription against the government establishing religion.

I am aware that the Supreme Court recently decided (Carson v. Makin, 2021) that the state of Maine must allow their school voucher program to pay for tuition for religious schools.  Maine has some rural areas with no educational resources at some or all grade levels, and tuition vouchers were meant to allow children to attend private schools.  The state law said that the private schools were to be non-sectarian, and the Court's 6-3 decision last year struck that down.  

This is a major crossroad in the national discussion of values, and Estes Park is a small component in a very large issue.  It seems imprudent to make a very premature, precipitous decision like this without broader dissemination of the information to the stakeholders, not only children, parents, and school district staff, but the residents in the school district who are the tax-payers who will have to live with the consequences.  

My input is to table the application until the public can be adequately informed, and to make this a ballot issue for the next local election.

 ⚕︎ Linnéa Carter, MD

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