Dirty politics in JeffCo: Who’s exploiting a school-board member’s son?

The Independence Institute released a smear ad in which embattled conservative school board member Julie Williams claims protestors, attempting to recall her, bullied her special-needs son into leading a parade against her. The video is misleading and a school district investigation suggests her claims are untrue.

Dirty politics in JeffCo: Who’s exploiting a school-board member’s son?

Tuesday, the libertarian Independence Institute released a video that accused recall supporters of bullying the special-needs son of Jefferson County Board of Education member Julie Williams into carrying a pro-recall sign in a parade, scarring him.

It’s only the latest in the increasingly-ugly war of words in the recall election. And it turns out the allegations in the video are most likely untrue.

Three board members: John Newkirk, Julie Williams and board president Ken Witt, are targeted in the November 3 recall election. They’ve been under fire almost from the start of their terms on the board, which began after the November 2013 election. They’ve been criticized for hiring a board attorney with no public bid process, forcing out the district’s long-time superintendent and instituting a merit-pay system without input from the teacher’s union.

In the ad, Julie Williams alleges that protestors bullied her special-needs teen into leading a pro-recall parade against her, scarring him.

The ad deals with an incident from September 2014 — before the recall was formally launched in July. That is never stated in the ad.

On Friday, Sept. 19, 2014, the district canceled classes at Standley Lake, where Williams’ son Randy attends, because teachers had called in sick and the district was unable to find enough substitutes.

About 140 students at Standley Lake used the day off to protest against changing the Advanced Placement history curriculum.

Julie Williams had proposed the change, claiming the curriculum needed to focus more on patriotism and less on “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

By the following Wednesday, more than 700 students, parents and teachers across the district were marching against the proposal. The board eventually backed down.

Bethany Keupp, then a senior at Standley Lake and one of the protest organizers, told The Colorado Independent that because the school was closed that day, his mom “would have had to drive him to school that day to participate in the protest.”

In the Independence Institute video, Julie Williams demonstrates how her son described the sign he carried, in a manner that indicated it was on a stick.

According to an email sent to Julie Williams by Kristen Simon, a parent of a Standley Lake student, the students carried poster board signs. Simon pointed out that there were no signs on sticks, in the email which was published on the website supportjeffcokids.org. Keupp confirmed that all the signs were on poster boards, and she had been part of the group that made those signs the day before.

The Jefferson County School District administration investigated the incident at Williams’ request, which was routed to investigators on Sept. 24 by board attorney Brad Miller and Superintendent Dan McMinimee.

Williams gave the investigators three dates upon which she believed the protest had taken place: September 8, 18 and 22.

The investigators reviewed school videotape and found there had been no protest on any of those dates. They reviewed a total of 240 hours of video at a cost to the district of $3,780.

Once they informed Williams of their findings, she provided no further information or additional dates for investigators to review.

As to the September 19 protest, Keupp said she knew of Randy Williams and “had he been there, I would have noticed.”

Jon Caldara, president of the Independence Institute and host of “The Devil’s Advocate,” confirmed that the video was referencing the September 2014 protest, not the current recall, and that the interview with Julie Williams was part of a longer interview recorded a year ago.

Caldara maintains that Randy Williams participated in the protest.

“It really hit Randy hard,” Caldara told The Colorado Independent Tuesday.

“He was invited to lead the parade, and thought it was for his mom.” The teenager discovered instead the protest was against his mom, Caldara said.

While the district investigated the incident, no one ever talked to either Randy or Julie Williams, said Caldara.

According to the district’s report on the incident, investigators did talk to her.

Caldara said what happened to Randy is just one in a string of bullying incidents against board majority members’ children. Newkirk’s children have been targeted by peers and have since transferred to another school in the district.

Caldara used his interview with The Independent to address claims made against the board, particularly in the recall language on the November 3 ballot.

The pro-recall ballot statement claims the board majority has repeatedly violated the state’s Open Meetings law. Recall supporters could have filed a lawsuit in Jefferson County District Court for those violations, Caldara said.

If the board was found to have violated the law, the recall would have been “perfunctory,” he said.

“There’s everything to gain and nothing to lose” by filing the complaint, and the board majority “would have been run out on rails.” It’s certainly not a matter of money, since the recall supporters spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on the petition drive alone, he said.

Caldara said people will instead read the ballot and think the allegations of breaking state law had been proven. “It’s slanderous.”

As to the claim that teachers are leaving the district in droves, “I could write the other ad” that says teacher retention in Jefferson County is better than both the state average and that of neighboring districts.

The board majority decided to tell their own story of what they’ve accomplished, rather than refuting the lies on the ballot, Caldara said. “As much as they’ve done for kids in the county, people need to know that these allegations are completely refuted.”

John Ford, a social studies teacher at Moore Middle School and president of the Jefferson County Education Association, called it “sad” that opponents of the recall are stooping to such tactics, based on misleading, unfounded and untrue allegations.

Teachers in the district care about the 85,000 students they teach, he said Tuesday. “They don’t do this kind of thing.”

He said JCEA members this weekend will be out “walking and talking” and educating voters about the recall.

Keupp, now a student at CU-Boulder, said she was excited for her first chance to vote, adding that she turned in her ballot this weekend. She said she’s excited to vote in an election that she’s worked hard for.

Jeffco United for Action spokesperson Lynea Hansen declined an opportunity to comment on the ad.

Julie Williams has not yet responded to a request for comment.

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About the Author

Marianne Goodland

has been a political journalist since 1998. She covered the state capitol for the Silver & Gold Record from 1998 to 2009 and for The Colorado Statesman in 2010-11 and 2013-14. Since 2010 she also has covered the General Assembly for newspapers in northeastern Colorado. She was recognized with awards from the Colorado Press Association for feature writing and informational graphics for her work with the Statesman in 2012.

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