Two incumbents, one challenger win election to Woodland Park School District RE-2 school board

Incumbent Mick Bates, incumbent Cassie Kimbrell, and Keegan Barkley won election to the Woodland Park School District RE-2 school board in Teller County, Colorado, on Nov. 7, 2023. Three districts were up for election: District A, District C, and District D.

The district had 1,804 students during the 2021-2022 school year.

Incumbents Mick Bates, Dave Illingworth II, and Cassie Kimbrell ran as a slate of candidates. Illingworth was one of four conservative candidates who won in 2021. Bates and Kimbrell were appointed to replace board members who resigned in 2022. Local Republican elected officials had endorsed all three incumbents. Their campaign priorities included academic achievement, parental involvement, teacher wages and benefits, history and civics, school choice, education in trades, and protecting kids.

Challengers Seth Bryant, Keegan Barkley, and Mike Knott also ran as a slate of candidates. The slate’s campaign priorities included quality education, safe schools, removing personal political agendas, removing untested educational standards, ensuring access to state-mandated resources, fiscal responsibility, teacher training and retention, and counseling and mental health services.

The challengers also campaigned against the board’s adoption of the American Birthright social studies standard. According to the Civics Alliance, the coalition that created the standard, the American Birthright standard “teaches students to identify the ideals, institutions, and individual examples of human liberty, individualism, religious freedom, and republican self-government.” The National Council for the Social Studies, a professional association that focuses on social studies education, criticized the standard and said it is “an attempt to return to a time when United States social studies classrooms presented a single narrative of U.S. and Western history that glorified selected aspects of history while minimizing the experiences, contributions, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, people of color, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, the working class, and countless others.”

The Colorado State Board of Education voted against adopting the American Birthright standard in October 2022, while Woodland Park was the first school district in the country to adopt it in January 2023. In Colorado, the state sets minimum content standards, while local districts develop their own curricula that must meet minimum content standards. 

Another central issue in the race was the board’s media relations policy. In February 2023, the board updated its media relations policy to prohibit employees from speaking to the media without the superintendent’s consent. The Woodland Park Education Association (WPEA) sued the district in August 2023, “seeking to strike down a prohibition on employees speaking to the press or posting on social media about school matters without the superintendent’s prior approval.” The district said removing the media policy would increase criticism and disrupt operations. On Oct. 31, 2023, the WPEA and school district reached a federal court-mediated agreement. The district adopted a new media relations policy the following day that “strikes the prohibitions on teachers and strikes a statement that the violation of those policies is insubordination. It clarifies that school district employees are free to express themselves in their private capacity but can’t divulge ‘deliberative and confidential’ information until that information has already been shared by the district to someone outside the district.”

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Woodland Park School District RE-2, Colorado