School community battles imaginary-grenade backlash as Peter Boyles alleges a coverup
Update: Yesterday, we interviewed school board member Denise Montagu, who criticized the press for hyping the tale of Alex Evans, seven, who was allegedly suspended from Loveland's Mary Blair Elementary for pretending to throw a grenade; read it below. But even as the school's PTO plans twin rallies tomorrow, KHOW's Peter Boyles is arguing that what Montagu characterizes as a bogus story was legit -- and the subject of a coverup.
Pics, videos below.
On February 1, as we've reported, Alex's mom, Mandie Watkins, says Alex was engaged in superhero role playing when he was seen hurling an imaginary grenade at a made-up box with "something evil inside." She further claims that Mary Blair's principal, Valerie Lara-Black, called to tell her Alex had been suspended for his actions, which reportedly violated a series of "absolutes" posted on the school's website. The list of verboten activities is said to have spotlighted violent or aggressive behavior, whether real or fantasy.
Watkins soon went public with the incident, prompting a media frenzy that received attention nationwide. Before long, the school pulled down its website, supposedly because of online attacks and threats from across the country, but otherwise declined comment. But last Friday, the Thompson School District superintendent broke his silence, saying Alex had actually been suspended for throwing real rocks, not a fictional device. In addition, questions were raised about the credibility of Watkins, who has a sizable criminal record that includes a guilty plea for false reporting, prompting by a fire at her Greeley home and her insistence that she and her family were saved by a dog.
This version of events is being reinforced by two rallies at Mary Blair tomorrow -- one at 8 a.m., the second at 3:20 p.m. According to Travis Bauer, chair of the Mary Blair parent-teacher organization, the timing was chosen so teachers could join parents, students and others in Loveland to voice their support for the school, and to counteract the backlash prompted by the story.
"There's been an incredible amount of hate directed toward the teachers in the school," Bauer says. "So we want the community to know we're here for the kids, we're here for the teachers, and we're not going to let our community be dictated by people outside it. We need to take charge of our own school and our own community and decide for ourselves what we're about."
Mary Blair Elementary.
Not everyone has abandoned Watkins, however. Indeed, KHOW's Boyles believes he has proof that Mary Blair is involved an elaborate scheme to shift blame for the Alex suspension. He points at two screen captures of the still-down Mary Blair website -- one reportedly from just after the suspension, and another a couple of days later. In the first, there's no link to the list of "absolutes," as you can see here.
To Boyles, on whose program I took part this morning, these images show that Mary Blair had no real justification for suspending Alex in the first place beyond extreme political correctness, only cooking up the "absolutes" list afterward to deflect criticism, but inadvertently spurring more. He also surmises that the real reason the website was taken down was to prevent anyone from doing the sort of detective work his staff accomplished anyhow.
Boyles also cites a video made by Liberty Watch, a local organization whose Nancy Rumfelt spoke with us for our original post last week; it purports to demonstrate that there were no rocks for Alex to throw on the playground, thereby calling the school's assertions into question. Turns out, though, that another video shot by a Liberty Watch critic suggests that there are rocks aplenty in the vicinity. See both clips below.
As for Bauer, he's confident the website was shut down for the reason the school district says it was. "As soon as the story broke, and as soon as the story started to get national coverage, pretty much every teacher in the school got hate male," he maintains, noting that the site featured e-mail addresses and links that made it easy for angry people to launch multi-pronged attacks. "And the principal got bombarded with e-mails and phone calls, and she was threatened. That's something a lot of us who are close to the school are still struggling with. It's hard for us to wrap our heads around that."
Bauer adds that the Mary Blair PTO had to pull down its Facebook page because of Internet slams, too. As a result, most of the planning for tomorrow's rallies has had to be done by word of mouth. Still, he is hoping for a big turnout of people ready to turn the page rather than wallow in the past.
"Our focus isn't necessarily on what happened," he says, "but on who we are as a community at the school."
Continue for podcasts featuring Mandie Watkins and two videos -- one purporting to show that there were no rocks on the playground, and another asserting the opposite.