Regan Benson plans showdown with state board of ed over "outspoken" son
Regan Benson isn't afraid to speak her mind, and neither are her kids, including son Blake, who made news for sporting a "Nobama" banner during Michelle Obama's visit to Dakota Ridge High School, and Bryce, who ex-guv candidate Tom Tancredo backed in a controversy over wearing a "Border Patrol" T-shirt. And today, she plans to give the Colorado Board of Education an earful over Bryce's expulsion, which she sees as politically motivated.
"It's a vendetta," maintains Regan, who's actually banned from stepping on Dakota Ridge grounds. Speaking about herself in the third person, she says, "His mother is not allowed on the property, because his mother uncovers a lot of corruption at this school."
The Benson clan made national news in November 2008 due to Blake's protest of the future First Lady's speech at Dakota Ridge. According to the ACLU of Colorado, which later rose to his defense, Blake was ordered by school officials to leave, and when he refused, officials had him handcuffed, searched and arrested for interference, an offense that carried a possible six month jail sentence and a $750 fine. In addition, he was suspended from school for a day.
The following May, authorities decided not to prosecute Benson, and in January 2010, we reported that the ACLU dropped plans for a lawsuit on his behalf after the Jefferson County Sheriff's Office and the Jefferson County School District agreed to pay $2,000 apiece by way of an apology for the incident.
Things didn't go as smoothly for Bryce last year, when he made headlines of his own. As we noted in a post linked above, Bryce claimed that he was prevented from riding a school bus to a September football game in Pueblo because his "Border Patrol" T-shirt was perceived as offensive to other students -- and he subsequently received a three-day suspension as a result of the incident.
In the weeks that followed, the tale became a subject of fiery debate, with KHOW's Peter Boyles featuring it on his show and Tancredo speaking on Bryce's behalf at a Jefferson County School District meeting. But in a letter to parents, Dakota Ridge High School principal James Jelinek insisted that claims of discrimination against Bryce for exercising his right to free expression were false. He said the student in question was told he couldn't ride the bus because he was harassing a male cheerleader, not due to the shirt, and accused Bryce and Regan (although not by name) of lying about the actual events.
What happened next? According to Regan, "They deemed Bryce habitually disruptive. By state law, any school district has the right to boot out a habitually disruptive student if they suspend him three more times -- and they did suspend him three more times, in less than sixty days," for offenses that included being being "willfully defiant and insubordinate" to administrators and fighting at a nearby Sonic restaurant -- considered a "nexus" to campus.
Bryce insists that he was merely defending himself in the latter dust-up, and Regan sees the other accusations as "fabricated" and "embellished" -- assertions school officials reject.
The upshot of these suspensions was a letter recommending expulsion (it arrived on election day, Regan notes) that marked the start of a long and laborious process. In her words, "The superintendent signed off on the expulsion. Then we appealed, and they held a hearing with a hearing officer who had to make a determination -- and afterward, the superintendent had to say, 'I agree with that,' which she did. Then they sent us a formal letter, and we got one more appeal to the board of education," whose members voted to uphold the expulsion on January 19.
This verdict meant the only Jeffco facility Bryce could attend in order to complete his senior year was Brady Exploration School, whose curriculum is designed for non-attenders, drop outs and those who've been expelled. But Regan rejected that option and asked officials to instead provide Bryce with the resources to attend Arapahoe Community College. When this request was nixed, Bryce dipped into his savings to pay for classes himself.
Regan is proud of Bryce, who she calls "outspoken, a leader, someone who can stand his ground." And she plans to do likewise today at 3 p.m. at the Colorado Board of Education's ongoing meeting; for more information, click here.
"Three p.m. is their time for public comment," she says, "and I'm going to get it all on the record -- what's happened, what's transpired."
In response, she expects that the boards members "are all going to look at me with blank stares." But that doesn't dissuade her from speaking her piece -- not that anything ever has.
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