Summit School District superintendent calls out anonymous signs that criticized school and student performance

Signs were posted, and then removed, without any disclosure in weeks leading up to board of education election

Robert Tann/Summit Daily News
A sign pictured at the intersection of Colorado Highway 9 and Swan Mountain Road near the entrance to Summit High School on Thursday, Oct. 5, 2023. It is unclear who made it.
Robert Tann/Summit Daily News

During a Nov. 2 board of education meeting Summit School District Superintendent Tony Byrd called out anonymous signs criticizing district and student performance that have appeared near Summit High School in recent weeks. 

The signs, which appeared to be campaign messages related to the Nov. 7 election for school board, did not come with any payment disclosures, stating simply, “This communication is not authorized by any candidate.”

In reviewing campaign finance reports for all eight school board candidates, the Summit Daily News could not find any explicit payments that would have been for these signs. 

According to Summit County spokesperson Sarah Wilkinson, “There have been signs on different peoples’ properties, and the planning department has spoken to a few different landowners,” regarding the county’s sign policy. 

The first to appear was outside the high school around the beginning of October. It was posted near the intersection of Colorado Highway 9 and Swan Mountain Road. 

The sign claimed four district schools were currently “on probation,” a status that does not exist. Four schools are currently on an “improvement plan” while the rest are on a “performance plan,” ratings that are assigned by the Colorado Department of Education based on a school’s academic achievement, growth and, for some, postsecondary readiness. 

That sign stood in a Colorado Department of Transportation right of way and was later removed after county officials received “several complaints over the course of approximately a week,” Wilkinson said.

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Another sign appeared further south on Highway 9 that referenced 2022 state test score data showing that 8.7% of Hispanic students in third through eighth grade met or exceeded expectations in math. That sign, too, has been removed.

Byrd said he has heard from Hispanic students who felt the signage had “reduced us to a number.” 

“As our students said to us, ‘Don’t reduce us to a number — see us as who we are, intellectual, social emotional beings who have so much to bring to the table,'” Byrd said. 

It prompted the superintendent to defend the district’s focus on equity in education — something that has become a flashpoint for some community members who’ve repeatedly taken aim at aspects of the district’s equity policy passed in 2021.

“There’s some sort of false dichotomy that’s emerged in the public narrative that somehow equity and rigor or academics are not connected. They’re absolutely connected,” Byrd said. 

It comes as the district continues to see mixed results in test scores that have — in part — led to a decline in its overall accreditation rating, which currently stands at 55.9 on a 100-point scale

Byrd said the district is “paying very close attention to academic rigor” and pushed back on any arguments that the district has abandoned the basics of reading, writing and math. But he added promoting equity has been the most important work he’s been involved in as superintendent. 

Through this effort, district leaders have sought to reaffirm their commitment to supporting historically underserved groups, including the LGBTQ+ community. But that has sparked accusations from some community members that the district is pushing ideological learning onto students. 

In January, around 100 people appeared in person during a district board meeting, many to speak against teaching anything related to gay, queer and transgender identities to Kindergarten, first, second and third-grade students. 

“I stand strongly in support of LGBTQ+ students, that will never change,” Byrd said during the Nov. 2 board meeting. “And I stand strongly in the shoes of equity.”

He added that, within the past month, “I have heard endless racist, homophobic, xenophobic comments,” from community members he did not name. 

“It’s incredibly disappointing and not what we need for the students of this community,” Byrd said. 

Board member Chris Guarino shared similar comments during the meeting, stating, “I am just incredibly disappointed in some hateful and ignorant rhetoric that is out in the community right now.”

Byrd said he has “no commentary about who should be on the next board,” and thanked all the candidates for “being civically engaged.”

“I only have commentary on being decent human beings in this school district and this county and finding ways to work together,” he added.

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