Polis: Fire lawyer for ‘Maoist-style thought reform camp’ jab
“In this instance it appears as if some political agenda that I don’t understand might be clouding the quality of your advice to the Twin Peaks board.”
The news that Twin Peaks Charter Academy in Longmont, Colorado refused to allow valedictorian Evan Young to give a graduation speech in which he outed that he was gay has sparked a serious back-and-forth between the school’s board-attorney and Colorado congressman Jared Polis. Polis wants to see an external investigation of the school’s decision and overall inclusiveness, and the school’s administrators want Polis to leave them alone while they contract for their own investigation.
The debate, already pointed, got outright personal when the school’s attorney Barry Arrington stepped in to accuse Polis of a secret desire to send those involved to a “Maoist-style thought reform camp.” Polis has now gone ahead and added to his request for independent investigation the request that Twin Peaks cut Arrington loose.
Arrington has represented Polis on behalf of the congressman’s charter school network The New America School, and Polis said he was sorry to recommend that Arrington be fired.
“… I have had respect for your legal abilities and it pains me to make that recommendation,” Polis wrote. “But in this instance it appears as if some political agenda that I don’t understand might be clouding the quality of your advice to the Twin Peaks board.”
That political agenda may in fact be Arrington’s. In addition to representing various charter schools, Arrington spends time theorizing about intelligent design and its connection to the law. He’s fought on behalf of a Colorado student who felt denigrated by a biology professor who challenged her doubts about evolution.
In his musings about intelligent design, Arrington has also blogged about his thoughts on homosexuality: “A man’s body is designed to be complementary with a woman’s body and vice versa. All of the confusion about whether same-sex relations are licit would be swept away in an instant if everyone acknowledged this obvious truth.”
Arrington did not return request for comment about his work on intelligent design.
The full text of the back and forth between Arrington and Polis is below:
Dear Mr. Polis,
Twin Peaks Charter Academy has received your email below. Kathy DeMatteo is
out of town and has asked me to respond on behalf of the school.
With congressional approval ratings hovering around 10% we would have hoped
that you would look to your own house before inserting yourself into the
affairs of a local school that is not even in your district. But we
understand that politicians will play politics; that is why “politician” is
a byword after all. Nevertheless, you have gone too far even by the lax
standards we have come to associate with politicians. You are using the
prominence and prestige that goes with being a member of Congress to
leverage your efforts to bully, browbeat and intimidate the school, and we
respectfully request you to stop.
You seem to think that your position as a congressman in a neighboring
congressional district somehow gives you the authority to dictate to the
school and the district. Allow me to undeceive you. When it comes to the
internal affairs of Twin Peaks Charter Academy and the St. Vrain School
District, you have no authority whatsoever. Kindly desist from acting as if
As we have said before, Twin Peaks Charter Academy will conduct an
investigation into this matter. You suggest that the results of that
investigation are predetermined. That is risible coming from someone who
has already called for the school to be shut down even though you do not
have the slightest idea what the true facts are. Twin Peaks Charter Academy
has been serving students and families in the St. Vrain School District for
almost 20 years. The combined efforts of students, parents and staff members
in support of this dynamic and diverse school have resulted in an
outstanding education for thousands of students.
The school will continue with its plans to have an outside independent law
firm come in to investigate this matter and has already taken steps to hire
that firm. We do not control the timing of that investigation, but we hope
it will be completed and a report issued by early July.
That said, certain facts are already well known and Ms. DeMatteo outlined
some of them in her June 2, 2015 letter to you (copy attached). It is
doubtless embarrassing to you that those facts undermine your call to close
the school and subject its leaders to “sensitivity training” (What’s next, a
Maoist-style thought reform camp for everyone who has the temerity to
disagree with you?) I understand that your political game is best served by
having your inflammatory charges hang out there without any response from
the school. But we are interested in getting the truth out, not playing
politics, and that will be the goal of the investigation.
Barry K. Arrington
Arrington Law Firm
Dear Mr. Arrington,
I believe you have entirely misconstrued the communications of the
last few days.
Contrary to your assertion that I have called for the closure of
Twin Peaks, I explicitly called for the school NOT to be shut down
and reminded the school district that they have authority short of a
closure. In my letter of 6/2/15 you will see that I expressed my
sentiments to the district that “I hope that St. Vrain considers the
students first and finds a way to address this matter short of a
charter termination and school closure.”
You further state “It is doubtless embarrassing to you that those
facts undermine your call to close the school.” As I indicated in my
email of this morning: “Most importantly, an objective investigation
would carry the external validity needed to help restore the
reputation of the school in the eyes of the community and move past
these events.” As I expressed, the goal should be a
multi-stakeholder process that helps restore the reputation for the
school in the community. I continue to encourage you to agree to
work with the district to find an agreeable manner to investigate
this matter as well as the climate for LGBT students at Twin Peaks.
If your professional counsel to the board is that you believe this
to be a “political game” or that you believe that my goal is to
create a “Maoist-style thought reform camp for everyone who has the
temerity to disagree” then my recommendation to the board of Twin
Peaks is to remove you as counsel.
You have personally known me in my role as a passionate education
advocate for almost 15 years, and I think you know my advocacy to be
sincere and deep. Having worked with you professionally in the past
in both a position of adjudicating in favor of your clients as a
member of the State Board of Education and as a former client when I
was at New America School, I have had respect for your legal
abilities and it pains me to make that recommendation. But in this
instance it appears as if some political agenda that I don’t
understand might be clouding the quality of your advice to the Twin
This was and is not a difficult situation for Twin Peaks to emerge
from. But rather than take the simple steps necessary to do so in
conjunction with St. Vrain and make the school a better and safer
place for all learners, I continue to be mystified by the school’s
apparent desire to dig deeper and deeper.
I am always honored to help families in our district as the
Representative of the district in which a large number of Twin Peaks
families live, as well as deploy my experience as a former Chairman
of the State Board of Education, founder of several Charter schools,
and passionate education advocate to improve the quality of
education across Colorado and ensure that all public schools are
safe learning environments for all students.
Anyone who is familiar with my record in Congress and my record on
the Education and Workforce Committee knows that I am a strong
proponent of charter schools, consistently fighting for increased
expansion funding. I believe strongly in the power of charters to
provide innovative educational experiences, however, that doesn’t
mean I will stand by and do nothing if it legitimate concerns are expressed.
Rather than view my actions cynically as an attempt to “bully,
browbeat and intimidate the school,” I encourage you to view them as
consistent with my longtime advocacy that no students should be
bullied, browbeat, or intimidated at any public school whether it’s
because of race, gender, or sexual orientation. I hope that Twin
Peaks takes this occasion to renew its commitment to providing a
safe and welcoming learning environment for all students.
Drawing of Red Guards on the cover of an elementary school textbook. Image via Villa Giulia, [Public domain] Wikimedia Commons.
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