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While hundreds squeezed into the school board meeting room, others gathered with signs outside. (Photo: @Ed4Colorado/Twitter)

Students, Teachers Turn Out in Force Against Censorship of History

Hundreds pack Colorado school board meeting, voicing their discontent and winning a partial victory

Deirdre Fulton

Several hundred students, community members, and educators packed a Jefferson County Board of Education meeting in suburban Denver on Thursday night, lambasting the conservative-majority board's proposal to censor the district’s history curriculum.

The proposal—to establish a committee that would review course materials to ensure they promote patriotism and avoid encouragement of "civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law"—was the catalyst for two weeks of student walk-outs and teacher 'sick-outs,' the latter of which closed several high schools on two days in September.

Since September 19, thousands of high-schoolers have taken to the streets with signs reading, "How will we learn from our mistakes if you don't teach us about them?" and "Keep your politics out of my education."

They were similarly vocal during a two-hour public comment period Thursday evening. The Denver Post reports:

Students were first to take to the microphone. Many decried board president Ken Witt's characterization of the students as "pawns" of teachers and their union after thousands walked out of class over the last couple of weeks to protest the proposed committee.

"We find it insulting that you say that we are pawns of anyone else," said Chatfield High senior Ashlyn Maher. "It is our education that is at stake."

Two students from Standley Lake High presented the board with boxes filled with 40,000 signatures gathered online from people opposed to the curriculum committee concept.

While board member Julie Williams, who has cited the Texas Board of Education as a model, refused to recall the proposal entirely, the protests appeared to have brought about a partial victory.

Early Thursday morning, in advance of the board meeting, superintendent Dan McMinimee sent a letter (pdf) to board members proposing a compromise: rather than establish a new committee, McMinimee suggested reorganizing existing curriculum review groups in the district to involve more student, teacher, and community voices.

That compromise proposal—stripped of the controversial section about patriotism and civil disorder—was successful Thursday night. But not everyone viewed it as a win.

According to the Associated Press:

As the board voted 3-2 Thursday night to expand the membership on two existing curriculum review committees to include students, parents and administrators, some in the audience yelled "resign" and "recall, recall."

The two women on the board who oppose the panel's conservative majority held their heads in their hands after losing a bid to delay the vote so they could have more time to study the plan.

Many students and parents remain dissatisfied with the board's actions. 

"Last night, Witt, Newkirk, and Williams bought some time," an anonymous blogger wrote at the highly critical JeffCo Board Watch site, referring to the three conservative school board members. "Time, they hope, for the furor to die down. Time, they hope, for the press to go away. Time, they hope, for you to forget the fact that they want the ability to indoctrinate our children."

JeffCo Board Watch is calling for community members to join and help build a network that would monitor the board and eventually launch a recall effort. 

JeffCo parents were planning additional protests on Friday. According to a local ABC News affiliate, "The parent organizing the protest said... it was against this 'board majority—who time and time again—refuses to listen to their constituents and disrespects students/parents/teachers. These board members should believe in the institution they were elected to represent—clearly they don't.'"

Indeed, many have observed that this fight is about much more than curriculum changes.

"The controversy over a history curriculum in Colorado is an argument over a very much bigger issue," public education expert Jeff Bryant wrote Thursday at the Education Opportunity Network blog. "It’s about how we’re treating our nation’s youngest citizens with a substandard form of education that emphasizes fiscal efficiency over learning opportunity and standardization over individual needs and interests. And it’s about how we treat students as learners, imposing education as something done to them rather than with them."


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