Colorado recall supporter says she’s seeking ousting from school board, alleging illegal acts

The leader of a passionate Colorado school board recall campaign has defended her group’s conduct, denying that the campaign has any union ties and strongly shuts down claims that the recall is in response to allegedly illegal actions by the school board of Woodland Park.

Erin O’Connell gave The Epoch Times an alternative version of the July 24 events, which led to the arrest of another leader. O’Connell, however, says she did not witness the incident.

Samantha Peck was arrested on August 2 and faces a misdemeanor charge of making a false emergency report to police and a felony charge of attempting to influence a public official. She is free on a $3,000 bond.

Woodland Park police say Peck called them, alleging a woman – the wife of school board vice chairman David Illingworth – appeared drunk and about to drive away with children in her car.

Erin O’Connell is one of the organizers of a school board member recall campaign in Woodland Park, Colorado. (Courtesy of Erin O’Connell)

Police, responding within minutes, found the woman sober and childless in the car, the police department said.

O’Connell and Peck’s attorney, David Lane of Denver, both said there are two versions of what happened in the small town outside of Colorado Springs.

She said Peck was with other recall supporters gathering petition signatures at a table outside a Safeway supermarket.

They had to collect more than 2,900 signatures in 60 days on recall petitions for each candidate. O’Connell said the petitioners had previously been harassed by opponents of the recall.

Peck’s attorney said he advised her not to talk about the case.

O’Connell said there were two other witnesses, but they don’t want to come forward publicly yet.

The group received a tape of a phone call one of them made to police on the morning of July 23, the day before the incident, asking for more protection after alleged harassment the day before, said O’Connell.

But Woodland Park police require those requesting public records to attest that they want them for personal use only, and The Epoch Times couldn’t listen to them.

O’Connell said they were also trying to get a recording of Peck’s July 24 call and police body camera footage.

O’Connell has made numerous accusations against council members she and Peck are trying to remove, including violating the Open Meetings Act, leaving items on the agenda to cover up what they were doing , threatening teachers and creating such a hostile work environment that many teachers quit.

She accused them of using the tactic to rush through approval of a charter school that the community did not support.

And she accused David Illingworth, vice-chairman of the board and husband of the woman involved in the alleged July 24 incident, of derogatory comments about unions.

O’Connell’s wife is a former teacher and officer of the Woodland Park Education Association. They have three children at Woodland Park Schools.

O’Connell, however, flatly denied any union involvement in the recall attempt.

She said she was a political independent and the candidates running to become new board members – if Patterson and Illingworth were forced out – included a Republican and an independent. She owns a restaurant.

“They describe me as someone who hates charter schools and who is a far-left Democrat. None of this is accurate,” she said.

Four conservative school board members were elected to the five-seat council last November amid falling enrollment – 36% over the previous decade – and growing parental concern about what children were learning and at what age, on controversial topics like BLM, January 6, and transgender.

O’Connell claimed the decline was nationwide, including during the COVID lockdown, but school board supporter Jameson Dion said the national average was closer to 8%.

Board member Sue Patterson, along with Illingworth, is still the subject of the recall campaign – the recall attempt against a third party failed to secure enough signatures by the deadline last week – n did not comment on the Safeway incident because she was not present.

The council was elected with landslide majorities last fall in the first contested election in more than 15 years, she said. Patterson and his colleagues want to move the board from a board that just sets policy to a board that governs.

The old board had ceded too much power to the superintendent and administration and was out of touch with what was happening in the schools, she said.

“We want to be more involved, and we want the public to be more involved.”

Regarding union participation, she said, dues from members of the Woodland Park Education Association go to the Colorado Education Association and the National Education Association (NEA).

“We’re trying to get teachers to understand where the dues are going, not to help them, but to help left-wing politicians get into office.”

“It’s all the politics of the left driving this,” Patterson said.

Woodland Park schools use Summit Learning programs to teach children.

According to the National Education Policy Center, Summit was funded nationwide by a $200 million philanthropy from the Chan-Zuckerberg Foundation.

The NEPC says there is little evidence that the programs offer better education or higher college admissions as claimed, and meanwhile violate student privacy when they collect personal data. .

The program uses social-emotional learning theory, which it opposes, Patterson said.

“It is not for schools to teach social-emotional learning. It is the jurisdiction of the family. This is a government subsidy paid for by leftists who try to separate schoolchildren from families.

Patterson said she grew up with children who were raised in another state. She had only moved to Woodland Park a year or two before her election with 64% of the vote.

She denied that the school board was going against the wishes of the community by approving the Merit Academy charter school. Their landslide victory showed they had the support of the community, and the sharp drop in enrollment at local schools showed parents had lost faith in them, she said.

O’Connell has come under fire for defending a college drag show on Facebook. She said she didn’t promote it at Woodland Park.

“It was hypothetical,” she said of the social media discussion of a past event in another state. She denied that drag shows constitute an inappropriate injection of sexuality into schools and primary education.

“If you put on a skirt,” she said, referring to a boy, “how is that sexual? If I want to wear pants instead of a dress, that’s an outfit.

Dan M. Berger

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