Several hundred students from Arvada, Arvada West, Golden, Pomona, and Ralston Valley high schools walked out of classes on Tuesday morning in protest of a Jeffco School Board proposal to establish a curriculum committee to examine Advanced Placement U.S. History. Several hundred more students from three other Jeffco high schools protested the proposal on Friday and Monday.
The proposal from board member Julie Williams stated that the committee should identify any objectionable contents and “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.” Her proposal also stated, “Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law.”
Protests started on Friday morning, when students at Standley Lake High School had originally planned to walk out of classes at 8:20 in protest of the curriculum committee proposal. Classes were cancelled Friday morning at Standley Lake and at Conifer High School after a number of teachers called in sick.
Despite the closure, more than 100 Standley Lake students lined the intersection of Wadsworth and 104th Avenue with protest signs Friday morning morning and again at 4 that afternoon. Conifer students also protested near their school along U.S. 285. Students held signs that read, “I refuse to settle on my education,” “Stand Up Jeffco,” “Education without Limitation” and “Students ≠ Budget Items” while chanting, “My school, my voice.”
More than 100 students from Evergreen High School also walked out of classes on Monday and carpooled to protest in front of the Education Center in Golden. Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee met with a small group of students that day. He said he has also met with students from Lakewood High School and will continue to meet with “any student groups who have questions.”
“Our students deserve to be heard and need to know that they can have a role in shaping their education,” McMinimee said in a Sept. 23 Chalk Talk email to parents. “We want our students to know that we respect their viewpoints and have heard their anxiety over the issue.” McMinimee also linked to a press release from Williams about her proposal.
Protests on Tuesday morning were even larger as students walked out of classes with signs. Pomona students chanted, “It’s our history, it shouldn’t be a mystery” during their protest Tuesday morning while lining the intersection at Wadsworth and 80th. A few blocks south, Arvada High School students protested at Wadsworth and 64th. Students at Arvada West, Golden and Ralston Valley also walked out in large numbers to protest. Students held signs that read, “Education is more important than the BOE’s political agenda” and “Censoring history is not educating!”
Chatfield High School and Lakewood High School have protest events planned for Wednesday. A new Twitter hashtag, #JeffCoSchoolBoardHistory, also popped up on Tuesday on the popular social media site.
The Jeffco School Board did not vote on the proposed curriculum review committee during their Sept. 18 meeting, in part due to a technicality that would have made voting on the proposal illegal. The item was postponed for a second read because the posted agenda item, “Resolution: Study Committee on Common Core Standards, PARCC assessments and AP U.S. History” differed significantly from the written proposal Williams submitted. Her written proposal did not include Common Core or PARCC among the topics to be studied, added the elementary health cirrculum to the list of topics, changed her original proposal for a study committee to a curriculum review committee. Williams had told board members that she wanted to establish a board-appointed committee to study Common Core, PARCC, and AP U.S. History at the board’s Sept. 4 meeting.
Both Brad Miller, the school board’s attorney, and district legal counsel Travis Branum said it was legal for the board to discuss the item but not to vote. “It’s not inappropriate to adjust it going into a second read, assuming you don’t take any action tonight,” Miller said.
Williams said she had received several emails expressing concern about her proposal and said her intent had been misunderstood. “I am not suggesting we eliminate any of our factual, accurate American history. What that sentence clearly states is that we shouldn’t be promoting to our children to be disobedient to the law. That’s all,” Williams said. “And that’s not saying that anyone does that. I just want that to be part of what we’re looking at.”
“As a former journalist and as someone who studied history, who was a history major in college, I find this resolution chilling,” board member Lesley Dahlkemper said. “If we want our students to think critically, to communicate clearly, and to understand current events, they need an unvarnished version of history.”
“It’s about wrestling with complex issues. It’s about studying difficulties that different people have encountered over time. It’s about talking about our triumphs; it’s about talking about our challenges along the way. That’s what makes studying history so amazing and so important in the work we do,” Dahlkemper said.
Dahlkemper said the resolution was similar to one that had been proposed and rejected in Texas. “It’s too extreme for Jeffco.”
Board member John Newkirk said he shared some of the concerns Williams mentioned. “I can testify from what my children are bringing home, that what they are bringing back is primarily negative.”
Newkirk also said he shared some of Dahlkemper’s concerns, and offered substantial edits to the proposal. In the original proposal, each board member could nominate three people and the board would then vote on each nominee until nine had been selected, which would have allowed the board’s majority to control the entire membership of the committee.
Newkirk’s edits called for each board member to name “up to two members of the committee.” He also modified the clause about objectionable materials to read, “materials that may reasonable be deemed objectionable.”
Newkirk said he had also started to review the second paragraph of Williams’ proposal, but then struck out the entire paragraph. He said he would like to rework it before the next board meeting and Williams gave him permission to do so.
“I share some of the issues that Ms. Dahlkemper brought up, but I don’t think you meant we should gloss over negative parts of American history,” Newkirk said.
“I think that you totally misunderstood what this meant,” Williams told Dahlkemper. “I have no intention for us to leave things out of American history. The whole committee’s function is to make sure that we are teaching accurate American history, good and bad.”
McMinimee said there are established ways for someone to challenge any curriculum in the district, though the format differed from the resolution Williams presented. He also said that the district has existing curriculum review committees that include parents and community members who review items each year.
“AP U. S. History is an elective course. If we’re truly talking about choice for parents, if they object to AP U. S. History, I would say that probably our responsibility is to provide that information up front so parents opt in or opt out of that.”
“My purpose was not to undercut a resolution,” McMinimee explained. “What it was, was to demonstrate that we have other vehicles within our district policy that can get to a similar place.”
“This also doesn’t appear to be proposing a committee that would have curriculum choice authority,” Jeffco School Board President Ken Witt said. “It’s only to opine, to review and provide comments on or concerns about curriculum.”
Board member Jill Fellman and Dahlkemper questioned how this committee would be different from the curriculum review conducted through the district. “Which one trumps the other?” Dahlkemper asked.
“This is not a committee with authority,” Witt said. “This is a committee that provides information.”
Williams continued to defend her proposal in a Sept. 23 press release. “I thought everyone, or at least everyone involved in education understood the huge debate and controversy surrounding the new [AP U.S. History curriculum]. To be accused of censorship? Seriously?” Williams said.
“I presented a resolution to Opt-Out of Common Core and PARCC Testing and to my dismay it was tabled in favor of a deeper look. APUSH fits right into Common Core and a one size fits all curriculum,” the press release continued. Williams also said that “When it comes to history I believe all children graduating from an American school should know 3 things: American Exceptionalism, an understanding of U.S. History, and know the Constitution.”
The curriculum committee proposal is expected to be on the agenda for the school board’s Oct. 2 meeting for a second reading. The agenda for the meeting is expected to be posted on Sunday, Sept. 28, and public comment sign-up will open Monday at 10 am.