A passionate coalition of teachers and students in Jefferson County, Colorado are continuing their fight against censorship this week, employing some of the very tactics the conservative school board wants to eliminate from history textbooks.
Seventy-two of 102 teachers at Golden and Jefferson high schools called in absent on Monday, forcing both schools to close for the day; teacher "sick-outs" also closed two high schools on September 19.
Meanwhile, several dozen students from Carmody Middle School walked out of classes on Tuesday morning, marking the first time younger students have joined an ongoing protest by teachers and high schoolers against proposed changes to the district's history curriculum. Hundreds of students from the majority of the county's 17 high schools have staged walk-outs and protests over the last two weeks.
"I stand with my fellow teachers who are 'sick' of the board majority's actions. While we need some reforms in Jefferson County, the board majority is not providing the reforms we need or want."
—Tammie Peters, Golden High School English teacher
The actions are in response to a proposal from the conservative, five-member school board to establish a committee that would review the district's Advanced Placement history course in order to ensure its materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law." Conservatives nationwide have claimed that the AP history course is "revisionist" and overly focused on the "negative" aspects of American history.
Students across Jefferson County have taken to the streets with cardboard signs and slogans like, "Don't make history a mystery" and "Keep your politics out of my education."
The College Board, which oversees the Advanced Placement U.S. History course at the center of the dispute, has said it stands behind the students and that if a school or district censors essential concepts from an AP course, that course can no longer bear the 'AP' designation.
"These students recognize that the social order can—and sometimes must—be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice," the College Board said in a statement. "Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history—from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement."
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The teachers, and to a lesser extent some students, are also opposed to a school board proposal to link teacher pay to evaluations.
According to the Denver Post, Jefferson County school superintendent Dan McMinimee threatened to bring disciplinary action against dozens of teachers who called in sick or used a personal day as part of the protest on Monday, unless they could show "proof of illness."
In response to the protests, the school board has added the curriculum review proposal to the agenda of Thursday's meeting.
School board president Ken Witt said last week that the history curriculum changes are not final, and he blamed the teachers' union for urging young people to walk out of class, which he called "the manipulation of our students," Reuters reports. The union, which is also against a new merit pay compensation package and has been in conflict with the right-wing-dominated school board for months, claims it has had nothing to do with organizing either the walk-outs or sick-outs.
“But, we certainly understand teacher frustration right now," union president John Ford told the Guardian, "and I think our whole community’s experiencing the same kind of frustration with the secrecy, waste and disrespect from our school board majority.”
Tammie Peters, an English teacher at one of the two schools that closed on Monday, was asked to speak to the media on behalf of the school's educators.
"I stand with my fellow teachers who are 'sick' of the board majority's actions," Peters said in a statement. "While we need some reforms in Jefferson County, the board majority is not providing the reforms we need or want. The board majority continues to show disrespect to the voters, the taxpayers, the teachers, the parents and the students of Jefferson County."