Citizens and staff members packed the room at the Park County School District (PCSD) RE-2 Board of Education regular meeting November 14th. Several people showed up to offer public comments about a controversial field trip at Edith Teter Elementary in Fairplay.
Second graders took a walking field trip to visit Governor Jared Polis at Highside Brewing November 3rd. Teacher Kirsten Kraus and Principal Laurel Dumas defended the field trip, explaining that they followed all the policies and procedures for such an outing. At the beginning of the school year, all parents signed a permission slip that is described as an “umbrella walking field trip permission slip.” This is not uncommon in small towns like Fairplay, where the teachers often take students to locations within walking distance. When parents complained they did not know the location of the field trip, Kraus explained that the location of the private event was undisclosed until the last minute. Once she knew the location, she shared it with any parents who asked.
Kraus argued that the community’s uproar about the field trip was due in part to her personal political affiliation, citing that she endures tremendous abuse on Facebook for her beliefs. She assured the room that this field trip had nothing to do with her political agenda—it was an educational outing to teach students about the functions of government, per second grade curriculum.
Parents who showed up to support the field trip commented they were grateful their children had the unique experience of meeting a governor, regardless of party affiliation. The students were excited, well-behaved, asked good questions, and represented our community honorably. One parent offered his sympathies to Kraus, “It’s not right that you feel you have a target on your back. We should be able to come together as a community and talk about these things.” However, he also expressed concern that he was not given the respect of being told where his son was going.
The location and method of travel distressed even the parents who supported the field trip. Fairplay saw its first measurable snowfall that day, and it was also Pajama Day at school. Highside Brewing is on the opposite side of U.S. Highway 285. Therefore, students were walking in the snow in their pajamas across the highway, and many parents were unaware of this fact until after school. One parent complained, “My kid came home and said he went to a bar.”
Other parents were outraged about the entire event, arguing that politics have no place in the classroom. This was indeed a campaign stop the week before elections. Polis posted on social media, “I’m excited to take our campaign to move Colorado forward to Colorado’s most famous County: Park County! I got to meet Henry the Ferret at Highside Brewing in Fairplay along with friends and supporters. Let’s vote, Colorado!” Polis also posted a selfie with students and beer-drinking supporters in the background. Some students even brought home propaganda, including anti-Amendment 2A buttons.
Board members shared the same conflicting opinions about the field trip. Graham Fowler was present for the event at Highside Brewing. He said it was a wonderful experience for the students to hear Governor Polis outline the State of the State, and it felt nonpartisan to him. Larry Foster agreed with upset parents that politics have no place in the classroom and the logistics of the field trip were inappropriate. He explained parents should always know where their kids are going and have the choice to opt out.
James Dean conveyed his disappointment that parents feel so disconnected from the school, as some parents expressed in emails and public comments. Shana Bundy reminded the room that the board is policy-driven, and the most important policy is partnering with the community. Sheila Waite concluded the topic by requesting a special meeting between board members, the principal, and the teacher to discuss which policies, if any, were violated by the field trip.
Board members were delighted to see such high attendance for their meeting, but disappointed that negativity sparked it. Some attendees came to share celebrations and compliments, such as Dr. Lee Ann Wade. She is the principal of Lake George Charter School, and she made several announcements celebrating the wonderful things going on in her community. She regaled their Veteran’s Day celebration with a special WWII veteran guest. A team of four students started their own Color Guard chapter and are learning about flag etiquette. She is also very proud of their focus on career paths for students, highlighting aerospace, aviation, cave exploration, and leadership. Last, she explained a new life skills program in which students are learning survival skills for an uncertain world.
Another Park County citizen attended to give her compliments to Superintendent Cindy Bear and Administrative Assistant Chris Zak on their interview with Matt Renoux. While watching 9News, it surprised her to see the segment highlighting Colorado’s oldest school building in continuous use. She congratulated Bear and Zak for making our community proud.
Finally, board members voted on PCSD’s Employee of the Quarter. They celebrated the accomplishments of several amazing staff members, and the honor went to Trish Hanner, a paraprofessional in South Park Middle School/High School. This is her first year, and she works tirelessly supporting teachers and students with academics and life skills.