By: Suzie Glassman/NewsBreak Denver
(Castle Rock, CO) DougCo superintendent Erin Kane admitted the district has work to do earlier this week after Lacey Ganzy and her three children recounted acts of racism, bullying, and harassment directed at them while attending district schools.
Work to do may be an understatement. Tom Ahlborg, a co-founder of the Bullying Recovery Resource Center based in Denver, said at least one-third of the non-profit’s caseload comes from families in Douglas County.
“No other district comes anywhere close,” said Ahlborg.
Ganzy, whose children are biracial, said other parents had reached out since she came forward with their stories. The district’s study body is 71.9% White, 1.3% Black, 5.9% Asian or Asian/Pacific Islander, 14.8% Hispanic/Latino, 0.4% American Indian or Alaska Native, and 0.1% Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander. Less than 6% of students are two or more races.
DougCo is also the wealthiest county in Colorado and 4th wealthiest county west of the Mississippi River. Ahlborg has no explanation for why the county seems rife with bullying in its schools but speculates political divisions among parents could be partly to blame.
Political division has kept the district's school board from monitoring the implementation of an equity policy set in place several years ago, and the majority members of the board continue to debate the language within, citing ambiguity and concerns over how it can be interpreted.
At this week’s board of education meeting, several public commenters spoke against the district’s policy, asking the board to throw it out.
In what appeared like a tone-deaf comment, considering testimony from students minutes earlier, Cheryl Vandal said equity policies create racism where none exists.
Allyson Rydwell said anti-racist policies encourage educators to choose which students to favor based on “immutable characteristics.” This “blind push for equity is stumbling into a truly gruesome place," she said.
While saddened by the stories she heard earlier, Rydwell claimed the rise in racist issues isn’t because more people are racist but because policies like the district’s divide people by their differences.
Yet, no language in the current equity policy or Kane’s proposed regulation outlining the implementation of the policy calls for educators to put students into groups based on race or other characteristics. But rather commits to increasing growth and achievement for all students.
Out of step with the law
The district’s bullying prevention, complaint, and compliance policies regarding nondiscrimination and harassment haven’t been updated since 2017 and 2020.
Yet, the Colorado legislature passed a law in 2021 requiring school district policies to, at a minimum, incorporate approaches, policies, and practices outlined in the model bullying prevention and education policy.
The fact that DougCo hasn’t updated its policies since the law passed signifies the district isn’t following the law,” said Ahlborg. He also pointed out that DougCo lawyers and administrators have known their policies have been lacking since at least February 2022.
That’s when the Office of Civil Rights, Department of Education, ruled that the district had failed to properly investigate complaints of bullying against a student with a disability and that there was a gap in the staff’s understanding that the effects of bullying denied that student the ability to receive a free and appropriate education.
The student who filed the complaint provided examples of four students with disabilities who attended DougCo High School and were allegedly subject to bullying and harassment and that the district failed to investigate appropriately.
District counsel Wendy Jacobs suggested changes to the district's bullying prevention policy at this week’s board meeting that would define bullying according to Colorado law but didn’t mention these changes were required more than a year ago.
NewsBreak reached out to the district for comment and is awaiting a response.
What to do if your student is bullied
Tom and his wife, Dru Ahlborg, started the Bullying Recovery and Resource Center after their son was bullied relentlessly and tried to take his own life.
They provided the following tips for parents who suspect bullying.
- Use the form provided at the end of the Colorado bullying prevention model policy to submit a formal complaint to the school. For bullying to exist, there must be an actual or perceived imbalance of power, which can look like many things, including popularity, social status, or peer groups.
- Document every interaction. Schools often keep conversations in person or by phone. You can record these without notifying the other party, a legal practice in Colorado.
- Always follow up any phone or in-person conversation with an email. Summarize what was said and who committed to doing what. Ask for confirmation.
- Complaints should be addressed within three to five days. If not, escalate the issue to the subsequent higher authority.