A candidate for re-election to the Douglas County School Board has filed a report with the county sheriff's office after a heated confrontation with an audience member at a candidate forum.
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The development comes as the closely watched school board election nears its Nov. 2 conclusion, with tensions among community members splashed across social media.
Kevin Leung, a school board director running for re-election, told Colorado Community Media that he was leaving a private forum held at Wind Crest Senior Living in Highlands Ranch on Oct. 20 when a man who appeared to be upset approached him.
Leung said the man appeared to be dissatisfied with answers to questions he had asked during the forum about teacher turnover and a former district superintendent. After the event concluded, the man continued asking Leung about the topics and told the school board member he was not adequately responding, Leung said.
“He finally said this to me, 'You are not qualified at all. You don't speak English,'” Leung said.
Leung said at that point, he took out his phone and attempted to record the conversation. He alleged the man grabbed the phone from him and then “shoved it back to me” when Leung asked him to return it.
Leung's fellow candidate and slate member Juli Watkins told Colorado Community Media that she witnessed a portion of the conversation and observed Leung mostly listening to the man.
“The man was yelling at him that he couldn't even speak English and it was clearly aggressive,” Watkins said.
Leung said he filed the sheriff's office report because the man took his property.
A spokeswoman for the Douglas County Sheriff's Office said on Oct. 26 that detectives were investigating the incident. Another spokesman said on Oct. 28 that possible charges were pending in the case but said he could not disclose additional details while the case remained open.
The person involved could not be reached by Colorado Community Media for comment. A spokeswoman for Wind Crest said the man is not affiliated with the center and was escorted off campus after the incident.
“While the incident occurred at Wind Crest, it did not directly involve or impact any of the community's residents or employees. As always, the safety and well-being of all who live and work at Wind Crest remains our top priority,” the statement said.
Holly Osborne Horn is the campaign manager for the Kids First slate of school board candidates, which includes Leung's opponent in the election, Christy Williams.
Horn also attended the Oct. 20 forum and said both men acted inappropriately. The man had asked "a strange question" during the forum about teacher turnover, calling a former superintendent a "racist, hell-on-wheels superintendent," she told Colorado Community Media.
Horn said the man and several other audience members grew frustrated with what they felt were indirect answers to that and other questions. She was sitting a few seats away when the confrontation with Leung began, she said, although she did not hear exactly how the conversation started.
As they spoke, she said each man seemed angry and the man asked Leung to speak slower. Horn said she did not hear the man make a comment about Leung being unqualified because of his accent.
"I heard him say, 'Slow down, I can't understand your English,' or 'You don't speak English well,'" she said.
Horn said she observed Leung take out his phone and hold it close to the man's face while the man asked him more than once to remove it. Eventually, "he either swats at the phone or he grabbed the phone," she said.
As the man was escorted out, Horn said she heard him say he should not have touched Leung's phone and that he was wrong. Horn said Leung had an opportunity to de-escalate the situation or prevent it by avoiding the man but had not.
"Neither party was solely guilty. I don't think anyone was innocent here. It was like both of them played a part," she said.
Leung immigrated to the United States from Hong Kong. His first language is Cantonese, and he began learning English at a young age, with a focus on learning to write in English.
Leung called the comment at the Oct. 20 forum regarding his speech hurtful. It's important to address instances of bullying and discrimination, he said, so young people and other immigrants feel encouraged to speak up.
The past 18 months “have not been easy for the Asian American people, because of COVID-19,” he said.
“I've lived in this country for 33 years. I know I have (an) accent,” he said.
Leung attended another candidate forum at Legend High School on Oct. 25. Candidates on both slates urged civility among attendees and respect for forum rules in their opening remarks.
Leung began his comments by discussing his upbringing in Hong Kong, living with illiterate parents in extreme poverty, who he has said escaped from communist China.
Leung attended college in the United States. At the Oct. 25 forum, he said he worked hard to obtain two master's degrees and open his own businesses, and considers his life now as living the American dream.
He wants to make his children proud and be a productive member of society through his service on the school board, he told Colorado Community Media.
“Instead, I hear a comment like this, implying that I don't belong, and I have no busines even coming trying to serve,” he said, referring to the confrontation at the earier forum.
The races for four Douglas County School Board seats are hotly contested this election.
Leung is one of two incumbents seeking re-election. He's joined a slate alongside incumbent Krista Holtzman, plus Juli Watkins and Ruby Martinez, who are seeking their first terms. The slate says they will continue positive momentum set by the current board.
The Kids First slate is composed of Becky Myers, Mike Peterson, Christy Williams and Kaylee Winegar. The four have vowed to set a new direction for the district and are critical of DCSD's response to issues including COVID-19, equity and academic achievement.
Fierce debates have played out among members of the public in recent weeks as COVID-19 has galvanized voters, with supporters of each slate trading online barbs.
Rumors swirled on social media following the Wind Crest forum incident, including a post describing Leung as the aggressor.
The post was shared dozens of times across multiple pages. It was unclear who authored the statement. Commenters launched into debates, some defending Leung and pointing out the information was unverified, while others discussed voting him out of office.
Horn, the campaign manager for the Kids First slate, said she did not think the post was "blatantly false" but added, "I do think it was definitely sensationalized."
She and another senior consultant on the Kids First campaign said they do not know who wrote the statement.
Watkins said the post was “a complete misrepresentation of what happened.”
Leung said he was hesitant to respond to the social media furor because the post's original author was anonymous, and he did not want to further spread its claims.
“I choose to ignore that because there is no truth and no merit in that,” he said.
This story has been updated with additional comment from the sheriff's office and witnesses.
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