LAFAYETTE, Colo. (KDVR) — A fifth-grade teacher was finally able to take his students on a field trip after years of COVID restrictions to teach them a lesson in Hispanic history.

Mr. Vargas and a bus full of elementary kids headed to Rose Lueras swimming pool in Lafayette.

The long-time educator took the opportunity to teach lessons that will hopefully stick with his students for years to come.

“I love helping students realize their potential academically. Socially just being there for them,” Vargas said.

It turns out, 88 years ago the Hispanic teacher and many of the students in his class wouldn’t have been allowed to swim at Lafayette’s first public pool.  

The class recently covered a chapter on the little-known story behind the big city project. Crews broke ground in the 1930s and many Latino families donated either money or construction materials to build the pool.

In 1934 during one of the hottest summers on record, the highly anticipated opening became a flashpoint for the city.  

The city had leased the pool to the fire department and they had a sign that said: “White trade only.” Testimony from city officials would later confirm the lease was a move by local white leaders to keep Latino families out.

“And then you can’t go to the pool and it’s just unfair,” one student said.

That notion was hard for 10- and 11-year-olds to accept.  

“They donated the most and they can’t even swim? That’s crazy,” another student said.  

Rose Lueras was a civil rights activist who wasn’t going to let the blatant discrimination stand.  

The Lueras family and 26 others took their fight to court just seven days after they were denied entry and it ended up being a losing battle. And one that ended in tragedy.  

Frank Archuleta, a local historian and researcher for the city of Lafayette, explained to the class that the Ku Klux Klan marched right from the spot where the swimming pool was originally located, terrorizing Latinos in the community.  

Archuleta said intimidation from the group during the court battle drove the Lueras family out of town to California.

Lueras was killed in a crash just weeks before she was set to testify in the case and Archuleta said there was speculation at the time the crash wasn’t an accident, that she was targeted by white supremacists.

Rosabelle, Lueras’ daughter, was only 13 at the time and was forced to stand in for her mom back in Boulder County to testify in the civil rights case. An act of bravery recognized and celebrated today.  

The pool was closed during the court battle and never reopened. Decades later the city built the Bob L. Burger Recreation Center in its place, and in 2019, local leaders named the swimming center the Rose Lueras pool.  

The story not only moved Vargas but it shed light on a part of his own family’s history he almost never learned.

“We had no backstory. We did not know what happened,” Vargas said.

Lueras is his great-great-grandmother and Vargas helps her story live on.

Years ago Lafayette committed to looking back into the city’s past, even the dark episodes, and sharing it with the public.  

“It’s sad to look back on but it also brings a sense of pride that my ancestors stood up to injustice and fought for civil rights,” Vargas said.

What seemed like just a fun trip to the pool was actually Vargas’ way of reminding his students that the past is never too far away.

“If you don’t learn from your history, you’re doomed to repeat it. We all have to work together to make things better for everyone,” Vargas said.