Al Loma launches another tirade about the Bible, the media at D11 board meeting

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D11's board room was packed for the Dec. 14 board meeting.

Greta Anderson Johns

A regular Board of Education meeting on Dec. 14 — meant to be a celebratory one for Colorado Springs School District 11 and Mitchell High School — was punctuated by a now-familiar tirade from Board Director Al Loma.

At this meeting, Loma, who’s again facing backlash and complaints for pushing religious rhetoric from the dais and in his official emails, defended his decision to quote the Bible at length in an email to an LGBTQ community activist after the Club Q shooting, and attacked the media for covering it.

On Dec. 13 the Business Journal wrote about Loma including Bible verses in an email from his official board address, after the activist and D11 constituent Joseph Shelton said he would bring it up during public comment at the D11 meeting the following day.

Shelton also told the Business Journal on Dec. 12 that he filed a complaint with the Freedom From Religion Foundation about Loma quoting the Bible and using his church signature from his board email, which is at least the second time that pro-separation of church and state organization has been contacted about this issue.

That story, which goes into detail about the Loma-Shelton email exchange, is here.

Dec. 14 marked the first regular board meeting for D11 since the Club Q shooting on Nov. 19, when a gunman opened fire in the gay-friendly club on North Academy Boulevard, in what prosecutors suspect was an anti-LGBTQ hate crime, despite the attack suspect’s nonbinary identity.

Since the mass shooting, Loma and D11 Board Vice President Jason Jorgensen have come under fire for their previous anti-LGBTQ comments, and a handful of district community members came to the Dec. 14 meeting to express their belief that the board members’ rhetoric is directly tied to the shooting and a generally unsafe environment for LGBTQ people in the city.

Jorgensen’s posting of a transphobic meme earlier this year, in particular, has been put forward as a primary example. The pro-LGBTQ Inside Out Youth Services CEO and Executive Director Jessie Pocock mentioned it from the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives Oversight Committee earlier on Dec. 14, stating, “It is not OK that we expect more maturity and compassion from our youth, than the public servants entrusted with their care.”

Jorgensen apologized for the meme in February, which the Indy (the Business Journal’s sister publication) covered here, but later said his “deeply held convictions won’t change, and are aligned with the Bible and biology, in that there are only two genders.” Jorgenson used his board report time on Dec. 14 to address the Club Q shooting and defend those beliefs. Jorgensen refused to speak with the Business Journal prior to the meeting, and deferred to his board report.

“In the days after the event, the board received emails similar to the narrative pushed by the media, placing blame where it does not belong,” Jorgensen said during his board report. “I’m disappointed that some of our District 11 community have used this strategy to further promote divisiveness and political agendas…”

Loma also refused to speak to the Business Journal prior to the meeting. He said, “I don’t talk to you,” and walked away.

Board President Dr. Parth Melpakam had suggested to the Business Journal that reporters could approach Loma one-on-one before or after a board meeting for comment, because Loma has not returned emails and still does not have his district cell phone set up.

Loma later claimed the publication and his critics are trying to “silence” him.

During Loma’s board report, he accused the Business Journal of coordinating the Dec. 13 story to come out the day of the board meeting — however, the story was published the day before the meeting. He claimed the publication was “fake news” and claimed he was being bullied. Loma did not — and has not since — offered any evidence of such “coordination,” and has not requested corrections for any factual errors in the Dec. 13 story.

“In an attempt to silence me, some put on the show to come up here, I call fake news, write a story to try to convince unwitting people to join the charade,” Loma said. “… This is the ideology that damage[s] our children by shutting down school, mandating masks; this ideology that said vaccines were safe and we all need to take them.

“You tried to bully me then for disagreeing with that statement, your belief.”

It should be noted that the Business Journal and Indy have frequently run stories about issues community members plan to speak about during Board of Education public comment, the day before or day of regular meetings in multiple El Paso County school districts. Board members and district staff have made themselves available for interviews to address questions ahead of, and day-of, those meetings.

In response to Loma’s report, Melpakam said, “The views and thoughts of a board director or a public that’s commenting and does not represent the views and thoughts of the board or the district.”

Melpakam also took time before the regular board meeting’s start to criticize the Business Journal, and repeated statements he emailed to us before the Dec. 13 story came out. Melpakam had refused a phone interview and ignored some specific questions sent via email. He instead sent written responses, which the Business Journal included in the Dec. 13 story.

During his pre-meeting comments, Melpakam claimed, “when given the respect and professional courtesy of time, I’m happy to answer any questions from the media. Never shied away from it.”

But Melpakam also refused to speak with the Business Journal ahead of the Dec. 14 meeting, saying, “I’m busy.” A few minutes later, he engaged with meeting attendees in the audience, but not with the Business Journal. Neither Melpakam nor the district have identified or requested corrections of factual errors in the Dec. 13 story.

In his comments at the Dec. 14 meeting, Melpakam tried to steer away from the Loma-Shelton issue and to Mitchell Promise, a multi-faceted program announced that day to support Mitchell High School students, including providing them tuition to attend Pikes Peak State College. (The Indy covered that announcement here.)

On the issue of a reprimand for Loma, which is being demanded by Shelton and some other community members, Melpakam said he can’t make unilateral decisions to reprimand a board member — the board would need to collectively agree to do that.

But any board member — including Melpakam — may propose discussion items (like a reprimand) that could later turn into agenda items, with agreement from other board members, according to the board’s operating manual. They can also, of course, use their board report time to condemn the speech of another board member. None of the board members did so at the Dec. 14 meeting.

As president, according to the manual, Melpakam is additionally “responsible for orderly conduct of Board meetings,” during which Loma, from his dias, continues to quote the Bible (he did so on Dec. 14, too) and rail against specific audience members. The manual also states that board members should limit their reports to three minutes, and Loma’s went on for more than 10.

Loma also used his report to read aloud the same Bible verse he had previously sent to Shelton from his official email account. It appears at the end of this story.

The reality is, there isn’t a collective will on the board right now to move forward with a reprimand of Loma, Director Julie Ott told the Business Journal before the Dec. 14 meeting. She was the one to start the reprimand discussion for Loma and Jorgensen back in February.

This is the text of the Bible verse Loma sent to Shelton from his official email, and read aloud at the D11 board meeting:

Rom 1:21-27 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 Therefore God gave them over in the sinful desires of their hearts to sexual impurity for the degrading of their bodies with one another. 25 They exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshiped and served created things rather than the Creator — who is forever praised. Amen. 26 Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. 27 In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Men committed indecent acts with other men, and received in themselves the due penalty for their perversion. NIV

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