Colorado Recall Supporter Says She Seeks Ouster of School Board, Alleging Illegal Acts

By Dan M. Berger
Dan M. Berger
Dan M. Berger
August 11, 2022 Updated: August 11, 2022

The leader of a heated Colorado school board recall campaign has defended her group’s conduct, denying the campaign has union ties and standing firm in claims that the recall is in response to allegedly illegal acts by the Woodland Park School Board.

Erin O’Connell told The Epoch Times an alternative version of the events on July 24, which led to another leader’s arrest. O’Connell, though, says she didn’t witness the incident.

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

Woodland Park police say Peck called them, alleging that a woman—the wife of school board vice-president David Illingworth—appeared drunk and about to drive off with children in her car.

Epoch Times Photo
Erin O’Connell is one of the organizers of a drive to recall members of the Woodland Park, Colo. school board. (Courtesy of Erin O’Connell)

Police, responding within minutes, found the woman sober and without children in the car, the police department said.

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

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

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

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

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

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

But Woodland Park police require those requesting public records attesting they want them for personal use only, and The Epoch Times has not been able to listen to it.

O’Connell said they are also trying to obtain a recording of Peck’s call on July 24 and body-camera footage from the police.

O’Connell made many accusations against the board members she and Peck are trying to remove, including violating open meetings law, leaving items off the agenda to conceal what they were doing, threatening teachers, and creating such a hostile work environment that numerous teachers have quit.

She accused them of using the tactics to ram through approval of a charter school the community didn’t support.

And she accused David Illingworth, vice president of the board and husband of the woman in the alleged July 24 incident, of derogatory remarks about unions.

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

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

She stated she is a political independent and that the candidates running to become new board members—should Patterson and Illingworth be ejected—include a Republican and an independent. She owns a restaurant.

“They paint me as someone who hates charter schools and is a far-Left Democrat. None of that is accurate,” she said.

Four conservative school board members were elected to the five-seat board last November amid declining enrolment—36 percent in the previous decade—and growing parental concern about what children were being taught, and at what age, about controversial subjects like BLM, January 6, and transgenderism.

O’Connell claimed the decline tracks nationally, including during COVID lockdown, but school board supporter Jameson Dion said the national average is closer to 8 percent.

Board member Sue Patterson, along with Illingworth, is still subject of the recall campaign—the recall attempt against a third failed to get enough signatures by the deadline last week—wouldn’t comment on the Safeway incident as she wasn’t present.

The board was elected with landslide majorities last fall in the first contested election in more than 15 years, she said. Patterson and her colleagues want to change the board from one that merely sets policies to one that governs.

The previous board had given up 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.”

On union involvement, she said, Woodland Park Education Association members’ dues go to the Colorado Education Association and the National Education Association (NEA).

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

“It’s all policies from the Left driving this,” Patterson said.

Woodland Park schools have been using the Summit Learning programs to teach children.

According to the National Education Policy Center, Summit has been funded nationally by $200 million philanthropy from the Chan-Zuckerberg Foundation.

The NEPC says there’s little evidence the programs deliver better education or higher college admissions as claimed, and meanwhile violate student privacy as they gather personal data.

The program uses social-emotional learning theory, to which she objects, Patterson said.

“It’s not the jurisdiction of the schools to teach social-emotional learning. It’s the jurisdiction of the family. This is a government grant paid for by leftists trying to separate school children from families.”

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

She denied the school board was going against community will in approving the Merit Academy charter school. Their landslide victory showed they had the community’s backing, and local schools’ steep drop in enrolment showed parents had lost faith in them, she said.

O’Connell has been criticized for defending a middle school drag show on Facebook. She said she wasn’t promoting one in Woodland Park.

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

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