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Parents and students pick up backpacks filled with school supplies at the central administration offices of Adams 12 school district in Thornton, August 21, 2020. (Kevin Mohatt, Special to The Colorado Sun)

This story was originally published by Chalkbeat. Sign up for their newsletters at

As a candidate for school board, Ben Helgeson says he wants to serve as a bridge between parents and teachers, opening up dialogue and restoring trust.

As a parent, Helgeson sent dozens of emails to district administrators, teachers, and union leaders accusing a teacher of being a “priestess” of critical race theory, accusing the union of pushing a racist, religious ideology, and accusing Superintendent Chris Gdowski of being complicit in it all. 

Helgeson is part of a slate of conservative candidates seeking to shift the balance of power in Adams 12 Five Star Schools, a diverse suburban district north of Denver. It’s one of dozens of Colorado districts seeing contested school board races this year shaped by religious and political divisionsTeachers unions and conservative groups are spending big in an effort to sway voters. 

In Adams 12, the public rhetoric is more muted. Candidates on both sides talk about paying teachers more, improving academic outcomes, and keeping students safe. But Helgeson also is deeply concerned the teachers union is pushing critical race theory into Adams 12 classrooms. 

Chalkbeat obtained many of Helgeson’s emails through a public records request. Some were redacted or withheld. Helgeson’s first complaints involved quarantines and masking rules, but soon he was writing almost entirely about critical race theory. Critical race theory is an academic field that analyzes how race is embedded in American laws and policies, but it has become a catch-all term for progressive approaches in education. 

Helgeson wrote that teacher training courses offered by the Colorado Education Association on books like Robin DiAngelo’s “White Fragility” and Ibram X. Kendi’s “How To Be an Antiracist” were themselves systematically racist and would pave the way to authoritarianism. An Adams 12 high school teacher led one of the courses.


Erica Meltzer is Bureau Chief of Chalkbeat Colorado, where she also covers the legislature and statewide education issues. Erica was a founding editor of the local news site Denverite. Before that, she covered everything from housing and energy...