Parents fret about future of Fruita ag classes
The resignation of two Fruita agriculture teachers is sending waves of confusion, worry and grief through a community of hundreds of parents and students at Fruita 8-9 School and Fruita Monument High School.
Nearly two dozen parents, students and community members attended a Board of Education meeting Tuesday and four people addressed board members to express concern about the future of the schools’ agriculture programs and Future Farmers of America program.
Ryan and Jennie Hudson, the couple who taught agriculture education and sponsored the Future Farmers of America program at Fruita 8/9 and Fruita Monument High schools, were placed on administrative leave on July 31.
Superintendent Ken Haptonstall said an internal district investigation into Ryan and Jennie Hudson started in the spring and was active when he started as superintendent in July.
“I can’t tell you the specifics of the investigation, but there were some leadership things and some other things that were concerning, so we put them on leave and the leadership things were enough that we were going to move them out of those positions,” Haptonstall said.
Haptonstall said several students came forward with allegations about the Hudsons and the school district approached the Fruita Police Department about those claims. Haptonstall declined to elaborate on the nature of the allegations.
A letter of resignation sent to the district on Sept. 11 from Jennie Hudson, obtained by The Daily Sentinel through an open records request, stated that her job “is no longer advantageous to my life and it is time for me to move on.”
Ryan Hudson submitted a letter of resignation to the school board on Sept. 18.
Since school started in August, students have been taught by a rotating roster of the one remaining agriculture teacher, substitute teachers and teacher assistants.
Haptonstall said it has been difficult to find anyone to fill the agriculture education jobs. As of Tuesday, both jobs were still posted on the District 51 website.
At the meeting, parents told school board members they were concerned about the future of the agriculture program and the impact of students not having enough qualified, full-time teachers.
During the meeting, Haptonstall told parents that the school district plans to maintain and expand the Fruita agriculture program.
Cindy Hays attended the meeting on behalf of her daughter, who graduated from Fruita Monument and participated in the agriculture program and Future Farmers of America.
“This FFA program has helped these kids who otherwise would disappear,” Hays told school board members. “I really hope that the promise that’s been made is held to account, because if not there’s going to be a lot of lost trust.”
Fruita Monument students Kelby Kaufman, Kali Jones, Aidie Reis and Colby Baker were among a handful of students who attended the meeting Tuesday.
Colby, a sophomore, said the Hudsons’ absence has been “a nightmare.”
“They were pretty much the only reason why I wanted to go to Fruita,” he said. “The ag (program) there is the best thing that’s ever happened to me and without them there, high school isn’t enjoyable. I don’t even want to go to high school anymore.”
Aidie, a freshman, said the Hudsons “were like second parents to us.”
“They were there for us. They treated us like their kids,” she said. “They did everything they could to help us and now it’s really really hard that they’re gone.”
Kali said Ryan and Jennie Hudson provided invaluable learning experiences to students, from bringing students to their farm to watch lambs being born to showing them how to change bandages on animals.
“They knew we needed to know this, and they knew who we were when a lot of people don’t even know our names,” Kali said. “It’s a very big loss for the kids who are coming in without that.”
Kelby said he changed schools in order to get involved with the Fruita agriculture program, and advice from Jennie Hudson helped him realize he wants to raise cattle when he graduates.
“It’s hit me really hard that she’s the one who pushed me to get there and now that she’s not there, I don’t have anyone to go to to get advice,” he said.
Fruita Monument parent Sylvia Reis said she doesn’t understand why the Hudsons were not allowed to continue teaching the agriculture program.
“We all know that where kids are concerned and where teaching is concerned, there are going to be mistakes. Teachers are going to make mistakes and parents are going to make mistakes,” Reis said. “We should, as a community, be willing to overlook those mistakes and allow the Hudsons to have another chance. If it wasn’t big enough for them to be fired from the district, it should be small enough for them to be rehired in the positions they were already in.”