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Two Cortez school board members resign over decisions on race theory, COVID-19

A community member addresses the school board with concerns about the district curriculum in this screenshot from August.
Schuenemeyer cites race and mask policies. ‘They’re digging their own hole,’ Flaherty says

Montezuma-Cortez school board members John Schuenemeyer and Chris Flaherty resigned Thursday, citing disagreement with board decisions about student mask-wearing and critical race theory.

Flaherty was sworn in to represent District G in January 2020. Schuenemeyer was elected to the board in 2009 and served as president for four years.

“Basically, I was really unhappy with the way the board was going in terms of the decisions that they were making regarding the students that they we’re responsible for and felt that I just couldn’t effectively serve anymore,” Schuenemeyer said.

Schuenemeyer

Schuenemeyer and Flaherty both said Thursday that they disagreed with the district’s stance on several topics, including COVID-19 and critical race theory, and that this came to a culmination after Tuesday’s monthly board meeting.

“They’re digging their own hole,” Flaherty said. “I don’t want any part of it.”

The Montezuma-Cortez School District RE-1 Board of Education passed a motion Tuesday to approve a document called “Resolution Opposing Principles of Critical Race Theory.”

The board established a committee to comb through school curriculum and remove traces of critical race theory that it found to be “embedded.” Those efforts will now commence with the passed motion.

Schuenemeyer was the only board member to vote against the motion. Flaherty was absent.

Schuenemeyer said he was concerned that the motion would eliminate diversity in schools, and that board efforts should instead focus on issues such as staffing shortage and teacher pay.

The board passed a motion Tuesday to increase pay for teachers who cover other classes amid districtwide staffing shortages, as well as for ESS paraprofessionals.

An excerpt from Schuenemeyer’s resignation letter reads:

“CRT is a highly complex subject taught at the graduate level in a university. The resolution declaring opposition to Critical Race Theory approved by a majority of the Board on Sept. 21, 2021 did not: 1) contain a definition of Critical Race Theory, 2) describe who is qualified to make these judgments, 3) state how teachers will participate or 4) describe an appeal process. By approving this resolution, the Board has ignored the fact that nearly 50% of our students are non-white.”

Other board members disagreed with Schuenemeyer’s perspective on critical race theory.

“We still learn the bad – you just don’t blame people for it, you just say, ‘We’re going to learn from that so that we will not do it again,” board member Sherri Wright said at the meeting.

Board member Sheri Noyes echoed Wright’s sentiments.

“We are not trying to get rid of any culture, diversity, anything like that – it is completely just the racism part,” Noyes said. “Nobody should apologize for anything, nobody should blame anybody for anything that happened eons ago, years ago – it shouldn’t still be in our school today.”

Schuenemeyer and Flaherty said that they have both talked with district teachers about critical race theory.

“They perceive it as an effort to remove anything in teaching materials that portrays Indigenous people and other non-Caucasians in a favorable light,” Schuenemeyer said.

Chris Flaherty is sworn in as a school board member by Phyllis Lockhart, then executive administrative assistant for the Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1, in January 2020.

From what he’s gathered from teachers, Flaherty said that the current Wit and Wisdom curriculum is “just a guideline – it’s not ‘You must read this.’”

Forrest Kohere, an eighth grade language arts teacher at Montezuma-Cortez Middle School, addressed the board earlier in the meeting about critical race theory.

“The amount of work it takes to internalize and teach a new curriculum should not be underestimated,” he said. “To come back to school in the fall and find the board putting together a committee to reopen and possibly remove our curriculum was devastating.”

Flaherty said he believed the board was “placating” members of the community and has a “constant disregard for professional recommendation.”

Schuenemeyer said he was disappointed with the board’s decision not to require students to wear masks.

“I thought that was a serious mistake,“ he said. ”Because health officials – Marc Meyer and others – have recommended that if we're going to get through this, we've got to do that.“

On Aug. 24, the board voted 5-2 – with Schuenemeyer and Flaherty opposing – not to mandate masks for students.

Schuenemeyer said he has received hate mail for his views.

“You should be able to serve in these volunteer positions and disagree with colleagues and members of the community without getting hate mail,” he said.

That’s not what primarily bothers him, though, he said.

“Being a scientist, I would like to be able to have people have rational intelligent discussions and disagree,” he said. “But over the last two or three months, the whole situation has gotten pretty ugly.”

Flaherty said that he feels the board doesn’t always make decisions that represent the wider interest of the community.

“Everybody has their own personal opinion on issues,” Flaherty said. “Once you set the agenda of a meeting, you set all that behind.”

Flaherty said that “morale is really low” in the district.

“I hope it can turn around quickly,” he said.

The resignations came the same year that former school board member Lance McDaniel was ousted from his position after scrutiny over a series of controversial social media posts.

Oct 25, 2021
Montezuma-Cortez school board member Lance McDaniel ousted in recall vote
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