You have to admire the gall of the Civics Alliance, if nothing else.

It was a kind of diabolical genius for the organization, headquartered in New York and backed by the likes of Ginni Thomas (who, you’ll recall, was prominently engaged in the plot to overthrow the 2020 election), to torch the locally developed curriculum in the tiny Woodland Park School District and instead impose its far-right indoctrination campaign under the guise of “preserving and improving” civics education.

The district in the shadow of Pikes Peak, with a population of around 20,000 and only about 1,800 students, usually doesn’t find itself thrust into the national spotlight.  But ever since a conservative majority took over the school board in 2021, Woodland Park has become a high-profile testing ground for the Civics Alliance’s manifesto for whitewashing American history, demonizing teachers and stifling debate.

The board launched its jihad by hiring Ken Witt as interim superintendent. Witt’s singular qualification apparently was that voters recalled him from the Jefferson County Board of Education in 2015.

It then adopted the American Birthright standards for social studies instruction, which, according to the National Council for the Social Studies, “have a clear political motive” with standards that are “an attempt to return to a time when … classrooms presented a single narrative of U.S. and Western history that glorified selective aspects of history while minimizing experiences, contributions and perspectives of Indigenous peoples, people of color, women, the LGBTQIA+ community, the working class and countless others.”

The standards require teaching, among other things, the upside of imperialism, including the spread of Christianity in Asia and Africa, which is a decidedly imperialistic view of a “benefit” from conquering native peoples, stealing their lands and resources, and destroying their cultures.

Similarly, it cites the imposition of Christianity on Native Americans as another big bonus, without mentioning the cultural genocide and appalling crimes committed in Indian boarding schools along the way.

The Colorado State Board of Education rejected the American Birthright standards last year, pointing to state law that requires civics education to include: “the history, culture, and social contributions of minorities, including but not limited to American Indians, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans, the lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals within these minority groups, and the intersectionality of significant social and cultural features within these communities, and the contributions and persecution of religious minorities.” 

Woodland Park was not deterred.

In fact, it doubled down.

The next step in its vehement anti-woke campaign was to eviscerate mental health programs in the schools. The district stopped seeking state and federal funding for counseling and mental health programs.

As Witt put it, “We are not the department of health and human services.”

As a result, children who need grief counseling, violence prevention services, suicide prevention, support in abusive family situations or advice on dealing with depression, gender identity, substance abuse or anger management are out of luck.

Best to just consult social media, I guess.

It was all part of the slash-and-burn strategy of the Civics Alliance. 

As David Illingworth said in an email to another like-minded board member, “This is the flood the zone tactic, and the idea is if you advance on many fronts at the same time, then the enemy cannot fortify, defend, effectively counterattack at any one front. Divide, scatter, conquer. Trump was great at this in his first 100 days.”

So, after driving away a significant portion of the administrative team, about 35% of the teaching staff and many of the counseling and mental health professionals, including Laura Magnuson, the district’s mental health supervisor — all obviously considered the enemy by Witt and his enablers — the board decided to extend Witt’s contract.

And what a contract it is!

It turns out being superintendent in Woodland Park is considered a part-time job. Who knew?

Witt is paid $155,000 annually plus car allowance, 14 days of vacation, etc., for his super job, and he gets another $155k plus bonuses, another car allowance, another 21 days of vacation, etc., for his position as director of something called the Education reEnvisioned Board of Cooperative Education Services. 

Even if taxpayers are OK with coughing up $310,000 a year, $1,000 a month for a car and assorted other costs for the superintendent of a school district with 1,800 students (half the student population of Cherry Creek High School), they might find it extravagant that the cost for legal services in the district has gone up 900% since his arrival.

Among the pending legal actions is one filed in federal court by the Woodland Park Education Association challenging the district’s policy forbidding school employees in their roles as private citizens from speaking publicly or posting information on social media. 

It also contends the policy gagging school employees was enacted in violation of the state’s open meetings law.

The lawsuit further alleges that the district has forced members of the Woodland Park Education Association to join the Professional Association of Colorado Educators — an organization widely viewed as anti-union — at taxpayers’ expense.

In response to all this, Illingworth responded with sneering bravado.

“I wasn’t elected to please the teacher’s union and their psycho agenda against academic rigor, family values and even capitalism itself. I was elected to bring a parent’s voice and a little common sense to the school district, and voters in Woodland Park can see I’ve kept my promises.”

Which is to say, fasten your seatbelts, all you parents, teachers and children in Woodland Park. This is just the beginning.

Unless, of course, folks come to their senses in November and elect people to the school board who don’t consider teachers, children, state laws and taxpayers the enemy. 

Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.

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