When Education and Indoctrination Collide
By Marjorie Haun | Watchdog Arena
GREELEY, Colo.—The Colorado Energy Task Force, formed by Gov. John Hickenlooper in 2013 to study and make recommendations to the Colorado Oil and Gas Conservation Commission and the state Legislature, held a public meeting in Greeley, Colo. last Thursday.
As one in a series of public meetings on the issues surrounding oil and gas development, specifically fracking, the hearing was held in Weld County, the heart of Colorado’s current natural gas boom. Presented at the Island Grove Regional 4H building, the meeting was open to the public and featured testimony from panelists as well as public comments at its conclusion.
Among the attendees were Jefferson High School teacher Rob Liebman, a paraprofessional aide and about 25 students who attend the alternative-learning campus in the Greeley-Evans School District 6. Liebman’s group arrived early and, initially, sat quietly as they waited for the task force to begin their meeting. According to Mr. Liebman, most of the students were from his Environmental Science class, along with a few from a Government class.
The Task Force meeting was delayed, and after a few minutes, Liebman led his students outside to listen to about 15 anti-fracking activists who stood in front of the entrance to the 4H building, stridently laying out their case against gas and oil development in Colorado. The high school group gathered in closely to listen. Liebman gave no indication that he wanted the students to remain neutral or simply observe.
The protesters indicated that they were associated with Moveon.org and Wild Earth Guardians, but would not disclose their specific identity. Their leader, a young woman, said their website was “cleanwater.org,” but the “Ban Fracking Now” signs they provided to those at the rally showed the URL “foodandwaterwatch.org.”
I attempted to obtain a copy of the printed flyers the activists were passing out, but they refused me. Teacher Liebman, however, obtained some of the handouts which he gave to the students to share among themselves. A few of the students were given “Ban Fracking Now” signs, which they held while the anti-oil and gas protesters gave speeches.
One of Liebman’s students, a young man, shouted the word “immature” at a woman who stood behind the gaggle of anti-frackers holding a sign with the words “I support Oil and Gas.” At no time did Liebman or the paraprofessional aide attempt to calm the students or ask them to return the “Ban Fracking Now” signs to the protest organizers.
A small group of individuals, locals, and those involved in the oil and gas industry, stood near the protesters holding signs in support of oil and gas. Liebman directed his students to stand in front of the pro-energy citizens and block them by holding up their “ban fracking” signs, which they did. He then took out a camera and snapped a number of photographs of them doing so.
After the meeting of the Colorado Energy Task Force was delayed for a few more minutes, the protesters eventually entered the building and sat in the audience. Liebman and his students also sat in the audience for a short time. Despite the rules of the meeting, which forbade the display of signs, some of Liebman’s students held the “Ban Fracking Now” signs on their laps and, at times, held them up for onlookers to see. Only minutes after the meeting began and introductions of the members of the Task Force were made, the Jefferson High teacher, paraprofessional aide, and students left the meeting.
When asked about the occurrence, Larry Green, the principal of Jefferson High, defended Rob Liebman by saying, “The intent of the outing was to see the Task Force and look at both sides of the issue.” Green would not say, however, whether or not he supported students from his high school joining the anti-fracking protest.
In a written statement, Direct of Communications for Greeley-Evans School District 6, Theresa Myers, said, “The intent of the field trip was not for the students to take part in any protest. Our director of high schools has met with the principal, and actions are being taken to ensure this doesn’t happen again.”
This article was written by a contributor of Watchdog Arena, Franklin Center’s network of writers, bloggers, and citizen journalists.