Teacher accused of soliciting votes School board member files complaint

Denver school board member Rita Montero is charging that a middle school teacher urged students to tell their parents to vote for Montero’s opponent in Tuesday’s election because of Montero’s stance on bilingual education.

That is a violation of the state’s Fair Campaign Practices Act, Montero said in a complaint filed this week with the secretary of state’s office.

‘She isn’t allowed to do that,’ Montero said of the teacher. ‘She doesn’t have the right to campaign in the building, especially with the kids.’

Montero, first elected to the school board four years ago, is in a heated battle with the Rev. Lucia Guzman for the seat representing northwest Denver.

The incident, according to the complaint, happened two weeks ago at Skinner Middle School in northwest Denver. The teacher denies the allegation, according to Skinner Principal Don Manzaneras.

Montero, in her complaint, says she received a call Oct. 19 from a Skinner parent whose son reported hearing literacy teacher Maria Solano instruct her students to ‘tell their parents not to vote for Montero’ because she ‘did not support bilingual education.’

State law prohibits teachers from campaigning for a candidate or political cause in the classroom.

But Manzaneras said Solano and students tell a different story.

The students were reading a newspaper article about the school board race, Manzaneras said, and a student asked Solano who she was going to vote for. Solano said she hadn’t made up her mind, the principal said. A student then asked her if she supported Montero, and Solano again said she was undecided, Manzaneras said.

‘I looked into it and didn’t find any wrongdoing,’ he said.

Bernadette Seick, DPS assistant superintendent in charge of middle schools, said she spoke with Manzaneras about the incident but had not investigated the matter further.

The secretary of state’s office has turned the case over to an administrative law judge.

‘At this point, I don’t believe the complaint is going to have a particular impact on my campaign,’ Montero said. ‘This is about educating people within our schools that they just can’t do this.’

Of the three races for school board, the Montero-Guzman race has been by far the most contentious. Among other things, each candidate has accused the other of misleading voters with inaccurate campaign literature.

Montero has upset some Hispanics because she championed the school district’s efforts to reform its bilingual education program. Students no longer will stay in bilingual education for an unlimited amount of time. Instead, the new program calls for students to be mainstreamed into English-only classes within three years.

Guzman, a United Methodist minister who owns a coffee house in northwest Denver, did not return phone calls for comment.

Carlos Illescas’ e-mail address is [email protected]

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