The controversy at Arapahoe High School following a school shooting, multiple suicides, the arrest of two teachers on sexual-assault beefs and an alleged rise in drug use and bullying came to a head during a public meeting last week.
During the May 2 gathering at a packed theater on the AHS campus, Jessica Roe, spokesperson for a parents' coalition that had raised concerns about the administration led by Principal Natalie Pramenko, says she was booed and hissed by the crowd and treated brusquely by some members of the Littleton Public Schools Board of Education, which hosted the event.
Roe admits to having been rattled by the response. But rather than backing down, the private investigator, journalist and former 9News producer is renewing her call for an independent investigation into AHS even as she plans to launch a campaign for a seat on the board. Even before the meeting, she'd registered to take part in a presentation this week "about the process of how to run in the 2019 election," she reveals. The way she felt things went down has only stiffened her resolve to do so.
Westword has reached out to Littleton Public Schools for the district's take on the meeting and have not gotten a response. However, we've communicated with numerous attendees who spoke about the gathering on the condition of anonymity. They told us that most members of the crowd backed Pramenko and were either dubious or openly hostile toward suggestions that she deserved blame for past tragedies and wasn't doing enough to address current problems.
One AHS parent who agreed to speak on the record is Laura Mutton, who followed Roe to the podium at the meeting. She's served on accountability committees at five schools in the Littleton district, including Arapahoe High School, and used her degree in economics and her background as a computer programmer and systems analyst — "I write financial reports for a living," she says — to question the methodology used in a parent coalition survey that found more than 73 percent of respondents wanted "changes to staff leadership at Arapahoe High School."
Mutton concludes that the coalition's figures are fatally flawed and the 73 percent figure is vastly exaggerated. Her complete analysis, which Roe disputes, is accessible below, along with the original survey.
In Mutton's view, the parents' coalition survey "has caused a lot of division in our community, and ultimately that could be very damaging to the school. It could make it hard to attract quality teachers and students — and from what we heard at the meeting, the students are really upset about it. There were a number of student presentations saying, 'Stop attacking our school.'"
She believes the school board "was extremely generous in allowing [Roe] to present her results, especially in the way she went about it, which was by creating a list of demands" — seven in total, including the call for an outside investigation, with the board asked to respond within thirty days. "This isn't someone who's saying, 'I want to work with you.' It's more like, 'We're going to tell you what to do.' They did ask her some tough questions, but I think when you challenge someone, you have to be prepared to answer those tough questions. And in my opinion, she made some claims that she wasn't able to back up with evidence."
Support for Roe among the presenters at the meeting was lacking, too. By Mutton's estimate, "one person spoke up for her and another one kind of saw both sides. But for the most part, there was no one else who agreed with her."
One reason for that, suggests Jessica Peck, an attorney working with the parents' coalition, is fear. She says she spoke with "no less than fifty parents and a handful of staffers," including five people who phoned her as she drove to the meeting, who echoed Roe's concerns but were concerned about retribution against them or their children should they share their opinions publicly. "I was stunned by the sheer outrage of these parents, who feel like they've been silenced," Peck says. "Because this movement is virtuous."
For her part, Roe was most incensed by what she saw as ridicule by school board secretary Robert Reichardt, who suggested on several occasions that she had spent $5,000 putting together her package of material about Arapahoe and Pramenko. According to her, that number is approximately five times higher than the actual amount — but even if it was accurate, it shouldn't diminish the seriousness of her findings.
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Reichardt, as it turns out, is one of two boardmembers up for re-election in November; the other is assistant secretary Jim Stephens. As a political novice, Roe will face a tremendous challenge defeating them should she move forward with her plan to seek a seat on the board. But she feels strongly that AHS parents need a voice.
"The meeting went for over six hours," Roe recalls. "It started at 6:30, and I got home around 12:40 in the morning. And when I got there, I had no less than twenty texts and emails from people I didn't even know. Somehow they'd found my contact information and wrote to tell me they wished they had the guts to have spoken up, but because of the way they treated me, there's no way anyone in their right mind would have done it. If I run, though, I think those people will come forward, because they can embrace someone who won't allow anyone to diminish the true concerns about what's being allowed to happen."
Since then, Roe has met privately with select boardmembers and says the conversation was positive; she found them to be more open to her concerns than they seemed to her at the public meeting. But she isn't backing down.