July 16, 2024 8:35 am
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Academy District 20 Superintendent Retires Amidst Protests Over Book Banning


Anzhe Zhang

Educators and parents were outraged earlier this year when Thomas LaValley, a Colorado Springs school board president, posted a YouTube video in which he urged “all parents who hear this, to, in the words of Ronald Reagan” “verify” what children were being taught in schools. He then proceeded to ask parents to get involved by reporting “objectionable material” in libraries and through working with other “like-minded” parents.

It was just the latest example of the increasing politicalization happening in schools across the country, as Republican lawmakers decried the so-called “woke agenda” while remote learning spurred parents to grow more vocal about what teachers were including or omitting from their curriculums. 

Yet research shows that the majority of parents support more education surrounding topics like Native American history, slavery, and present-day racism, for their children.

Now tensions have flared again as parents and educators protested against banning books last week before a school board meeting, calling on the district superintendent, J. Thomas Gregory, to resign instead of retiring at the end of the current school year. Gregory, who LaValley spoke highly of, denies that his retirement plans are related to the increasing politicization within both school board elections and book bans inside the classroom for Academy District 20, which serves about 26,650 students.

But in El Paso’s largest school district, only one parent requested books to be banned since LaValley released the YouTube video. That parent requested five books be banned citing “support for controversial issues, to include (Critical Race Theory), political stances, LGBTQ, anti-police,” according to Allison Cortez, the district spokesperson.

One major voice in the community that has led to increased rhetoric about banning books and teaching materials is Advocates For D20 Kids, an organization that supports LaValley and seeks to prioritize parental choice over teacher qualifications when it comes to school reading materials. 

But upon scrutiny, the group appears to be equally concerned with gender identity issues, petitioning earlier this year for schools in the district to stop funding gay-straight alliance clubs. The petition argued that gender and sexuality “have no place in our schools,” before it was shot down by Cortez, who said the district had no plans to stop sponsoring the clubs.

“Parents absolutely have a right to come into the schools and to see what’s happening in our schools, and I wish that more parents would come into our schools and see what we’re doing,” Emily Heinrich, a teacher in Colorado Springs who’s worked in the district for 11 years, said.

“My fear comes from the idea that it’s parents coming into our schools with an agenda instead of an open mind,” she continued.