Thomas explains why she denied Secretary Paige’s visit

       Threats of a protest that could have turned violent led to the cancellation of a pre-election visit to Helen Hunt Elementary by former Secretary of Education Rod Paige - the nation's first black man to hold that office - District 11 Superintendent Sharon Thomas told members of the Garden of the Gods Rotary Club Nov. 15.
       She said she was already “concerned about electioneering” in the timing of the scheduled Oct. 31 visit (one day before the election). Then, when she started getting complaints, including “40 threats” the weekend before the 31st, she decided to cancel his appearance.
       The subject came up during a question-answer session after Thomas' scheduled speech at a club meeting. Rotary member Nathaniel Atkins - also a black man - asked how much influence the teachers' union has on her. He said that Paige, appointed by President George W. Bush from 2001 to 2004, would have been a “positive role model” at Hunt, which has a high percentage of black students.
       “With the election and such a highly charged event, I wasn't sure if I could control it, or if the police could control it,” Thomas explained. “There was a chance of a nasty thing occurring.”
       In the election, a slate of three Board of Education candidates who were backed by the union opposed three candidates who were not. Paige's visit had been planned by the side that did not have union support. The union-backed threesome won the election, thus retaining a board majority.
       Thomas added her concern that a confrontation at the school might have adversely affected elementary-age children. “Whether you agree or disagree, that was my thinking,” she said.
       Afterward, Atkins thanked Thomas for being straightforward in her response.

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