COLORADO SPRINGS — Last week, Colorado Springs School District D11 Board of Education Director Reverand Al Loma issued a written apology, which was relayed to the board by president Dr. Parth Melpakam.
The apology followed questionable behavior online, in which Loma posted anti-vaccine memes on his personal, albeit public, Facebook and Instagram pages. Some posts suggested that microchip implantation is a risk for those who choose to receive the COVID-19 vaccine.
Multiple sources, including Johns Hopkins Medicine, have declared the COVID-19 vaccine safe. Johns Hopkins has said, “Roughly 12 months of data, including data from tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials, show that the vaccines are safe and effective at preventing serious disease or death due to COVID-19.”
Per the BOE’s own operating and procedures manual, board members are expected, among other items, to do the following:
- Take responsibility for making sure they have complete and accurate information before relaying facts on any forum.
- Abstain from using offensive or questionable language or label that may offend Directors, or the administration, or the audience.
- Reflect Board and District values at all times.
Loma also shared deceptive articles from such sources as The Epoch Times, known to spread conspiracy theories such as Q-Anon, anti-vaccine rhetoric and election fraud.
“Board members are expected to follow a code of conduct detailed in the Board Operating Manual,” President Melpakam said by email on Tuesday, Feb. 15. “Personally, I hold myself accountable to what I say and how I conduct myself in public as we are all role models for our students and staff. And I truly hope my Board colleagues do the same.”
However, just one day after Loma’s apology, another meme surfaced on social media, this one from BOE Vice President Jason Jorgenson. The meme depicted a transgender person, hooked up to an ultrasound machine – with a doctor pointing to the monitor – which showed a large amount of feces.
The text on the meme read: “When you transgender and you think you pregnant…”
When pressed for an explanation, Jorgenson said through email, “I apologize that something that was posted on my personal page was found to be offensive to some. I’ll be mindful of such postings in the future. I’d be far more interested in hearing on how your news coverage can bring our community together, and how we can partner in bringing about increased awareness to a much bigger concern. Our primary focus must be on student academics and our goals of catching up our kids after this horrible pandemic.”
Other community members think Jorgenson’s meme and its impact is very important, and they worry about its effect on students. Their concern has been validated through several studies. Yale University has also written extensively on the effect diversity and equity have on education.
In Colorado Springs, Jessie Pocock, director of Inside Out Youth Services, a nonprofit that builds “access, equity, and power with LGBTQ+ young people”, said, “This image is meant to bully. I can’t even imagine that any elected official would consider it appropriate to post something so demoralizing.”
She described the potential ripple effects the meme could have.
“Community climate is really important, and I mean ‘climate’ in terms of what are the messages we’re sharing with our young people, what are the things that we’re putting out publicly?” Pocock said. “Our young people are so tuned into social media and what the public messages are. Especially when it comes to targeting who they are as people. What we know about community climate is that it impacts really important things like suicide prevention.”
Plus, Pocock said, there is a very real safety component to address.
“We see higher incidences of violence against trans students. This is just the type of image that promotes violence based on dehumanzing students in our schools,” she said.
And the school board seems to agree, at least in theory. A draft of the board’s priorities moving forward includes improving culture/climate in schools.
Pocock, who works directly with a population of vulnerable youth in our area, isn’t taking that lightly.
“I think that this particular board member is directly contributing to what we know is not a best practice for suicide prevention,” Pocock said. “In a community where our LGBTQIA2s+ young people have higher risk of suicide in our schools – specifically – we need to be doing everything we can to be doing a better job for them. And this board member – this elected official – is doing them an injustice.”
But there isn’t much action the board president can take on his own.
“None of the Board Directors are my employees to hold them accountable,” Melpakam said. “They are my colleagues/peers. The constituents ultimately hold each one of the Board Members accountable.”
Still, Melpakam said some actions are being taken and he sent FOX21 the current consequences listed for board member misconduct, which are as follows:
- A voluntary apology
- Counseling by other Board Members in private or in executive session
- Board initiated reprimand
“The first two are happening (at least the private counseling part). I am happy to initiate the third if a majority on the Board approach me with that request,” Melpakam wrote.
It is not clear whether one or more board members are receiving that counseling.
The group’s Communications Manager explained why that information is so important.
“When a board member makes them the butt of a joke that actually puts a lot of fear in their hearts, like are these rights going to be respected? You know, a lot of them don’t even know that they have these rights. So, it’s up to the adults who are in charge of our educational institutions to make sure that these are known to them. And that’s just not happening,” she said.