Two Douglas County parents said they felt intimidated and threatened when school board president John Carson showed up unannounced at a private house party July 15. Carson said he was invited to the gathering of about 17 parents, held to discuss concerns about the current Douglas County School District board, school issues and the November board election. The hosts said Carson was not.
“It was very intimidating and clearly so inappropriate,” homeowner Jody Lynam said. “Here we are getting together to learn about why all these teachers are leaving. Well, here’s your answer. After what he did, I don’t have to hear anything else. He told me who I’m voting for.”
The original invitation, an Evite sent to about 40 DCSD parents, states the event is not open to board members. Carson, board members Meghann Silverthorn and Doug Benevento said they were invited not through an Evite, but an email that did not include the sentence barring board members. Silverthorn and Benevento did not show up at the party.
“If that was a misunderstanding, I certainly apologize for that,” Carson said during the July 16 school board meeting. “I personally find it rather shocking that members of the elected board of education would be prohibited from attending those.”
Carson’s apology followed party co-host Denise Gonzales’ public statement about his unwelcome attendance, during which she accused the board of using bully tactics to try to silence opposing voices.
Lynam, whose children will attend Saddle Ranch Elementary this year, said she didn’t recognize Carson’s face or name when he arrived at her Highlands Ranch home. Gonzales did, and asked Carson to leave. Carson did so, saying he would alert the media about the meeting.
“It was a threat; that’s how I felt,” said Lynam, whose concerns about DCSD spring from the loss this academic year of 10 of the school’s 33 teachers. “I think they want to intimidate people from not talking about it.
“If that’s an example of how the teachers are treated who work for them, that they feel they can treat parents in their homes that way, I can’t even imagine how teachers are being treated. No wonder they’re leaving.”
Recent district-released statistics show overall teacher turnover at 11.7 percent, slightly lower than last year.
Carson explained his comment about the alerting the media during the board meeting.
“I just question the genuineness of what’s being put out there to the public,” he said. “I (want) to make sure the public’s getting accurate information. If these are one-sided political meetings, so be it. But let’s be clear about what that is.”
Lynam and Gonzales said the private gatherings are among the few avenues community members have to share their concerns.
“Parents are starting to ask questions and wonder why; we’re telling them why,” Gonzales said, adding the information is factual. “But we have teachers that speak at these, and they won’t be open about their feelings if a board member’s there.”
The women also noted board supporters are paying for television ads, recorded phone messages and newspaper ads.
“We don’t have any funding,” Gonzales said. “We have nothing. This is our way of getting our side across.”
July 15 was the second time in recent months a board member has come to a private in-home meeting without an invitation from the homeowner.
In May, Silverthorn said a friend invited her to another such meeting. Though she was allowed to stay, the homeowner later said the board member’s presence made her and the other guests uncomfortable.
“I certainly am not going to go if I know board members are excluded,” Silverthorn said. “But I feel it’s incumbent upon me to get out there and get in touch with the community about what’s going on in the school district.”
The house meetings have become increasingly common in advance of November’s school board election. A group called Douglas County Parents, which describes itself as a cross-section of community members aiming to elect four new board members, includes a “House Parties” link on its website that allows people to schedule the events.
Carson's term and those of three other board members expire in November. Carson is term limited and cannot seek re-election.