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Conservative infighting on school board results in mass resignation

In Elizabeth, Colorado, Republicans are accusing each other of secretly supporting "Critical Race Theory," which isn't actually taught in Elizabeth's schools.

ELIZABETH, Colo. — Three conservative members of the Elizabeth school board have resigned, claiming they've been pestered incessantly about conservative conspiracy theories on curriculum that don't actually exist in the school district.

Two other far right members of the board were called out by school leaders claiming they've created the problem fueling the fire with talk of so-called critical race theory, social emotional learning and indoctrination of non-traditional values inside schools. 

Board president Cary Karcher said other board members' personal agendas is one of the primary reasons for his resignation.

"Board meetings have become chaotic and have brought behavior unbecoming of the community," he wrote in a resignation letter. "While I have enjoyed most of my five and a half years on the Board, I cannot see spending full time debating issues that are not issues, spending time going back and forth on disagreements, changing agendas at a whim when the board has not had time to review the requested agenda item, etc., etc."

At a meeting on Feb. 13, Karcher told the crowd that he is a conservative who believes critical race theory doesn't belong in schools, assuring the crowd that it doesn't and asking the crowd to refrain from spreading rumors.

"Since the election of 2021, the dynamics of our board changed greatly, and not for the better," Board Vice President Kim Frumveller wrote in her resignation letter. "For my first 2 years we never had a complaint that pertained to personality issues. NOTHING. And now it seems that my days are consumed with constant issues and lies, the lies that never seem to stop."

"At our public comments we have had a large number of people commenting on keeping CRT, SEL and Restorative Justice out of our schools. I couldn’t agree more with everyone, I don’t believe that anyone within our community or district wants any of this in our schools. Our administration to date has done an amazing job at keeping tabs on it and keeping it out of our schools."

Board Treasurer Craig Blackham wrote he's endured years of economic turmoil, a pandemic and mismanagement, but the last nine months of serving on the board have been the worst experience he'd ever gone through.

"Personal attacks, constant emails that begin at 6:00 am and end after 9:00 [pm] have made remaining in this position impossible," he wrote in his resignation letter. "Finally getting to sleep at 2 in the morning and waking at 5 am is taking its toll in so many ways."

School leaders insist CRT isn't being taught anywhere in the district.

"The work we are doing is being hampered by words like CRT and LGBTQ agendas in our schools. This has to stop," Elizabeth High School principal Bret McClendon said at a meeting last month.

He aimed his frustration at two school board members he's accused of spreading rumors: Rhonda Olsen and Heather Booth.

"Director Olsen and Director Booth… please stop chasing ghosts. We are not teaching critical races theory at Elizabeth High School… nor are we indoctrinating kids about non-traditional lifestyles," he said.

Director Rhonda Olsen insists she isn't driving the claims.

"You have never heard me say that we have critical race theory in our high school or any of our schools," Olsen said at that meeting.

She and director Heather Booth say they're just sounding alarms.

"We need to put safeguards in place to make sure it doesn't come here," Booth said.

All three made their resignation official at a short meeting Monday. 

Board policy says any member who resigns must be replaced by the remaining board in 60 days. 

In a news release, the district outlined the next steps. They said the remaining board members and the new superintendent will work to follow the guidance of legal counsel, which has determined the remaining board members may declare an “extraordinary circumstance” to continue to operate. 

Any business that must be conducted while a quorum may not exist will be brought back for formal authorization once at least three board members are in place, constituting a quorum, the district said. 

The remaining board members will conduct a special meeting at 6 p.m. Thursday to ensure the roles of president and vice president are filled, the district said.

Letters of interest will be accepted by the board over the next few weeks, and the board will interview prospective candidates to fill vacancies, the district said. Those appointed will serve up to the next election cycle, which is in November. 

A Recall

One of the two remaining members, Heather Booth, is also facing a potential recall. At that same Feb. 13 meeting, Shawn McWhorter, a parent of one student in the district announced the recall aimed at Booth.

"The public slandering of staff is unprofessional and unbecoming of an elected leader," McWhorter said from the podium. "She displays hostility to the school board, certain teachers, certain students, certain staff and certain community members."

McWhorter wasn't available to answer 9NEWS questions about the recall Friday afternoon. His recall petition also accuses Booth of "pushing false narratives." 

According to the Elbert County Clerk and Recorder, he has until April 24 to collect 2,496 valid signatures to initiate the recall effort. 

Booth doubled down on her claims of CRT when she responded to McWhorter at the meeting. 

"I am really proud of the conservative stand that I've taken and to safeguard our kids and our parents and even if it's not here, as some say, we need to put safeguards in place to make sure it doesn't come here," she said.

Booth wasn't available to speak to 9NEWS about the recall effort Friday and didn't answer direct allegations in a statement provided.

"As a Board of Education Director in the Elizabeth School District serving our community, I believe now is the time reinforce the essential partnership between our parents and educators in support of our students," Booth said in that statement.

In a Facebook post following the recall announcement she said she helped select a conservative superintendent and a conservative law firm to represent the district. 

"I believe these are two key areas to prevent CRT and far left initiatives from being expanded upon in our district," the post says. 

A Police Investigation

During that Feb. 13 meeting, Frumveller told Olsen and Booth that she and board president Karcher had gone to Elizabeth Police to report violations of confidentiality. Frumveller claimed Olsen and Booth violated confidentiality of an executive session.

"You can shake your head ... there's documentation," Frumveller said to Olsen and Booth at the meeting. "So, this for reasonable suspicion that a law was broken."

Olsen responded to the claims, saying she's been attacked since she first started talking about social emotional learning.

"I'm curious to see this documentation you have as well... because I have not violated my affidavit of confidentiality," Olsen said.

Elizabeth Police Chief Jeff Engel told 9NEWS the incident in question happened in Colorado Springs that that his department forwarded the case there. He told 9NEWS Friday that Colorado Springs will not investigate the case. 9NEWS has requested a copy of the police report.

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