Roosevelt High School in Johnstown, Colorado has found itself in the middle of a heated dispute after reactions to a teacher’s activity on Cinco de Mayo got out of control. Earning the cliché nickname PiñataGate, the incident began when the Spanish teacher went along with a student-driven idea to make a traditional piñata that had President Trump’s face stuck on it.
Several students participated in the activity as others posted pictures and videos to social media. While quite a few parents were upset about the activity, one parent, Lesley Hollywood, who isn’t even a Trump supporter, became the center of attention. It started when Hollywood did what any parent would do when her daughter brought the news home from school – posted on her private Facebook wall to discuss with friends, as she always does. What followed is both unbelievable and scary, and has left her daughter wondering if she needs a bulletproof vest to attend graduation, if she attends at all.
Here’s the rundown:
Cinco de Mayo (May 5)
Spanish teacher Jay Moser presents to the class a 5-pointed piñata with a smug picure of US President Donald Trump on it, which is later hung from a tree so that high school students can hit it with a stick.
Snapchat lights up with pictures and videos of the activity, containing some happy and some upset emoji.
That night, many students and parents continue to share and discuss the issue online. One parent, Lesley Hollywood, posts on her Facebook wall, noting that she isn’t a Trump supporter and would be just as upset if it were Obama, Bush, Clinton, or any other President. Reactions to the post are mixed, but initially respectful. It’s a Friday, so the school is closed and can’t be contacted.
Seis de Mayo (May 6)
School officials still manage to get wind of the piñata incident, and post a response on the school’s Facebook page and webpage. Dr. Martin Foster, the Superintendent, offers this statement of dissent but no apology. The post also notes that the teacher was put on paid administrative leave, pending an investigation. At the time of publishing this article, the post has 282 comments, 114 shares, and 282 likes/other, easily the most popular post in sight on the school’s Facebook page.
Siete de Mayo (May 7)
CBS4 Denver reaches out to parent Lesley Hollywood for comment on the issue. Instead of making it about like or dislike for President Trump, she notes that it isn’t a good way to teach students about respectful political discourse, which in the US already suffers from vitriol and violence nationwide. “They can have these conversations in a respectful manner. I just didn’t feel this was very respectful,” she told CBS4. She also reiterated that she didn’t vote for or support Trump, and wouldn’t care if another President’s face were on there instead.
The local news story quickly amplified to national news and later became international news. Many people discussing the issue said that this wasn’t one worth inflating to such high levels. In an interview with The Beacon, Hollywood agreed and added that she was just posting on Facebook for the sake of conversation, like she always does. She also wanted other parents to know what was going on at the school that might concern them.
Some angry students used their social media to coordinate attacks on Hollywood’s boyfriend, too, after having already targeted both her and her daughter. Not to be outdone, another commenter, apparently a student, added that she couldn’t wait for Hollywood’s reaction to her daughter being bullied at school for this and that Hollywood expecting a reasonable response meant “Your [sic] ignorant for thinking that way.” The commenter also said that any attacks back toward her would be “More proof [that] you grown ups [sic] don’t know good morals.” The rest of the message is full of other unintelligible commentary:
Some people also failed to read or listen to any of Hollywood’s statements, missing the fact that she doesn’t support Trump and instead assume she’s a liberal:
Ocho de Mayo (May 8)
News breaks that the school has been closed due to a “potential threat,” according to Superintendent Foster. In his letter, Foster notes that Johnstown police got involved but found “no credible threat” to anyone at the school and that it was all “based on rumor.” He also adds that police presence at the school will be stepped up in the coming days and at other district schools but claims it is “to show support for our students and our community’s commitment to ensuring their safety.”
Hollywood and her daughter meet with the principal, vice principal, and school police to discuss their safety going forward. Hollywood notes to them that Johnstown has long been rated in the safest cities in Colorado and wants to keep it that way. When they leave the meeting, news vans litter the parking lot and reporters are everywhere outside school.
Nueve de Mayo (May 9)
Hollywood’s daughter stays home from school for the first time, fearing retaliation to her despite having done nothing wrong.
Harassing messages to the daughter go off the charts as the day rolls on. Some messages are said to come from teachers at school. Then, one student goes so far as to call indirectly for Hollywood to be murdered:
Hollywood said she seems to have been right about the need to teach respectful political discourse in school. This 16-year old male student had his mother fire back at Hollywood, posting on social media, threatening legal action (on unclear grounds), and trying to sell the idea that her son was just “emotional” and that Hollywood was just a “self-obsessed, attention starved [sic], negligent pariah with too much time on her hands.” Here’s the mom’s full post:
Following, the police are involved and the son is charged with harassment. The police are also presented with the messages sent directly to Hollywood’s daughter, which are ominous, especially considering the physical proximity of this school to Columbine, Colorado:
Diez de Mayo (May 10)
Hollywood says that the initial frustration of the issue wears off and she feels she really needs to speak out. She gets an appearance on Fox News, 9 News, and a few radio shows.
Later that day, a 19-yo male came by her house and yelled “Free Moser” along with other unintelligible insults, and then drove away. Hollywood told The Beacon that she had every right to press charges against him and others for harassment charges, but chose to only do so for those who were truly threatening. Having been a political activist for many years, she is used to angry opposition yelling things at her and they really don’t bother her, but it is important to keep note of who the harassers are in case they ever escalate things.
Once de Mayo (May 11)
The aforementioned mom continues to go on rants toward Hollywood, and police are again contacted. Charges may be forthcoming with the mom, we’re told. The mom also sent a different message to Hollywood with a “my poor son” tone to it, claiming that they were the victims.
Hollywood points out on her Facebook wall that the school is violating their own rules by failing to suspend or otherwise reprimand the student who said “Let’s just hope someone puts a bullet in your brain….” The school rules for suspension/expulsion cite CRS 22-33-106(1)(a-e) and 3(e) and say that “the following shall be grounds,” including “behavior on or off school property which [sic] is detrimental to the welfare or safety of other pupils ….”
In our interview, Hollywood noted that while this student hadn’t been suspended or otherwise disciplined, with the school stating reasons like “he has rights,” her daughter and other students had been suspended for dress code violations. At the time of writing this article, it still seems the student has not been punished, despite criminal charges for harassment being filed. The student even taunted Hollywood with a terrifying message, bragging that he wasn’t removed from the school:
Doce de Mayo (May 12)
The harassing messages continue for Hollywood, still at a frequency of about one every 15 minutes. Hollywood begins getting input from friends and organizations who practice law, advising her of her legal rights with both civil action against individuals as well as the school.
A friend posts on Hollywood’s wall about the duties of the school to address bullying and cyberbullying, with links to legal definitions. The discussion’s conclusion seems to suggest that the school is turning a blind eye to the harassment, perhaps because of political alignment against Hollywood.
In the course of the week, Hollywood and her daughter have even gotten public badgering from a teacher and an employee, who ironically don’t think that social media is an appropriate place to air grievances:
Trece de Mayo (May 13)
As the weekend begins, threatening and harassing messages continue to come in, both from the people themselves as well as from friends who send them to Hollywood to collect as evidence.
Catorce de Mayo (May 14)
Hollywood continues to receive threats and harassment, but also a lot of messages of support from parents who are too afraid to speak out about the political bullying they claim they and their kids have tolerated.
Lesley Hollywood and her daughter celebrate their strong bond on Mother’s Day.
Quince de Mayo (May 15)
Hollywood shares a YouCaring page organized by friends to raise money for a lawsuit. At the time of publishing this article, over $2500 had been raised by just 20 donors, with $7500 left to the goal.
Hollywood told us at The Beacon that one goal is to set a precedent that empowers other parents to speak up when they or their kids are targeted for speaking out against school actions. Many parents who reached out to her said they had feared retaliation toward them or their kids when the school had done other inappropriate political things, such as one time kids were asked who their parents voted for.
Hollywood also told us that her daughter returned to classes today. The police determined that the severity of the threats was enough to justify an extra officer to follow her around school and other officers to be present when she leaves school to head home. The school also designated an extra staff member to follow her around school. The cost of this is being paid by the public, all due to the overreaction of a vocal and irrational group of people.
Dieciséis de Mayo (May 16)
No day would be complete without someone reminding Hollywood that it’s a small town.
So, after a Spanish teacher adds the President’s photo to a piñata for students to smash, an upset parent becomes the recipient of the vitriol, instead of the teacher or the school. Despite the parent’s repeated statements that she doesn’t like Trump, and would object to any President being the target, the large majority of people attacking her miss the real message behind her dissent – that the school should be promoting healthy political engagement. Parents, students, a teacher, a school employee, and dozens of neighbors and onlookers take to social media to bash on the parent for – no lie – posting on social media about the teacher’s inappropriate activity. The daughter now has been offered a bulletproof vest by concerned citizens who feel she shouldn’t give up her graduation celebration because of the death threats of irrational students and parents. The story grew from a Facebook discussion to international news, getting the teacher’s poor decision a whole lot of attention, mainly by people who blew it up on social media because they thought it shouldn’t be a big deal and doesn’t deserve a lot of attention.
I’d love to add my own commentary here, but the conclusion to this story writes itself.
Thanks for reading. Updates will be added as appropriate.