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Embattled Re-2 school board member says Voces Unidas pushes “radical agendas” in 2023 emails

Tony May takes in public comment during the Jan. 24, 2024 school board meeting. He’s facing a petition calling for his recall from the board, along with heavy community criticism.
Caroline Llanes
Aspen Public Radio
Tony May takes in public comment during the Jan. 24, 2024 school board meeting. He’s facing a petition calling for his recall from the board, along with heavy community criticism.

Pueden encontrar la versión en español aquí.

Garfield Re-2 school board member Tony May is facing more backlash in the midst of a petition to recall him from his seat.

The recall petition accuses May of bullying and intimidating district staff, parents, and community members. It also says he used his position as president to push a political agenda in the form of the right-wing American Birthright Standard for the district social studies curriculum. Despite his support, that initiative ultimately failed.

Documents obtained from the district now show that May also made inflammatory remarks via email about Glenwood Springs-based Latino advocacy organization Voces Unidas.

The district was planning a Latino Youth Summit at Rifle High School for April 21, 2023. Voces Unidas was going to be a partner on the event, with then-Roaring Fork School District Superintendent Jesus Rodriguez set to give a keynote speech.

In an email sent on Feb. 9, 2023 to his colleagues on the board and superintendent Heather Grumley, May wrote that this was his “line in the sand.”

“Frankly, in my opinion, Jesus Rodriquez and Voces push radical agendas of which Garfield Re-2 family needs to keep its distance,” he wrote. “I strongly do not approve of these people addressing our district and will bring it to a vote without hesitation. Having these people speak to our kids with their extreme polarizing agendas will derail our Strategic Plan community involvement in it’s (sic) tracks faster than you can say Instant Optics Disaster.”

He suggested “politely” canceling with Voces Unidas and Rodriguez due to a scheduling conflict, and backfilling with different speakers.

May also instructed his colleagues not to reply to the email, ”as per CO sunshine law CRS 24-6-40,” saying he would rather hold a special meeting about the topic.

About five hours later, May followed up on his original email, saying that he had reservations about the district sponsoring a Latino youth summit in the first place, saying they should instead plan a summit for “ALL” students, not just Latino students. The school district’s population is more than 50% Latino.

“We are all Americans first and the Garfield Re-2 school district is under the charge of the Garfield Re-2 School Board with the obligation to ensure the education of our children with the unalienable opportunity to be traditional Americans,” he wrote. He then quoted from the Declaration of Independence.

Then-board member Jason Shoup responded to May two days later, saying that this was the second time that May had “sent out an email to us clearly stating your opinion on a particular subject and then requested that no one replies because of sunshine laws!”

He said this was “clearly unfair,” and didn’t allow the rest of the board to voice their opinions. He asked May to save opinions and discussions for board meetings, where the full board could talk about them.

May responded about 45 minutes later, agreeing that he wanted to hear everyone’s thoughts.

He said he wanted to hear how the other board members felt “having a radical group address the students in our district. As you research The Voces Unidas group, you will find they are are (sic) pro BLM and play the victim in identity politics. Alex Sanchez of Voces Unidas uses classic Noam Chomsky communist revolutionary tactics. This group believes in socialistic government overreach and advocates radical resistance to American law.”

The district did not end up putting on the summit.

Community reactions to May’s comments

Community members at the Wednesday Jan. 25 Re-2 board meeting who spoke during the public comment period were not pleased with May’s 2023 remarks.

Irene Wittrock is an organizer with Voces Unidas, and spoke through an interpreter during the public comment period.

“Como padres, exalumnos, votantes, y miembros de la comunidad, tenemos la responsabilidad de involucrarnos responsabilidad de involucrarnos y desempeñar un papel activo en nuestras escuelas y gobierno local,” she said.

“As parents, alumni, voters, and community members, we (the Latino community) have the responsibility to get involved and play an active role in their schools and local governments.”

Wittrock said that’s why she and others are holding May accountable for his actions, and calling on him to step down.

Carole O’Brien of New Castle also spoke during the meeting, addressing May’s emailed remarks in particular.

“There is so much wrong with that email, it is hard to know where to start,” she said. But one comment stood out to her in particular, May’s comment on the district’s responsibility to give students the “unalienable opportunity to be traditional Americans.”

“Mr. May, I would be very interested to hear your definition of a traditional American,” she said. "I would also suggest you revisit the part of the strategic plan that emphasizes building authentic connections with our diverse communities.”

Recall effort continues

The organizers behind May’s recall petition say they have more than the 2,378 required to force a recall election.

The signatures are due Friday, Jan. 25 at 5 p.m., though organizers say they plan to drop the signatures off by 3:30 p.m. The Garfield County Clerk has 28 days to verify all the signatures. Once that process is complete, and if there are enough verified signatures, May has five days to resign, or, a recall election would be triggered.

Willow Brotzman, along with Denise Orozco and Leanne Richel formally called on Tony May to resign during the board meeting.

“Your resignation would save taxpayers the expense of a special election, around $37,162, and it would also pave the way for a smoother transition, allowing the board to focus on its primary mission: providing the best possible education for our students, and following the strategic plan,” Brotzman said.

After the public comment period, May thanked members of the public for voicing their opinions, but said nothing else in response.

May has yet to respond to Aspen Public Radio’s multiple requests for comment.

Caroline Llanes is a general assignment reporter at Aspen Public Radio, covering everything from local governments to public lands. Her work has been featured on NPR. Previously, she was an associate producer for WBUR’s Morning Edition in Boston.