Questions remain after Jeffco curriculum review vote

GOLDEN - In a 3-2 vote, the Jefferson County Board of Education voted Thursday to revise procedures for reviewing curriculum but did not specifically approve a review of AP U.S. History.

A controversial proposal from conservative board member Julie Williams to review that course led thousands of students to walk out of class in protest in recent days, and it drew many students and parents to Thursday night's meeting.

Ultimately the board adopted a compromise proposal penned by Superintendent Dan McMinimee to revise current review procedures to include students, teachers and other community members. But the committee that was approved is not course-specific and has not been charged at this point with reviewing AP U.S. History, according to Marlene Desmond with Jeffco Public Schools.

The board voted over the objections of the panel's two-member minority, who wanted more time to study the proposal offered by McMinimee. Minority member Lesley Dahlkemper protested that the vote violated the board's policy of not immediately voting on new proposals.

McMinimee called the proposal a good middle ground. He developed his proposal as a response to two proposed board resolutions recommending review of curriculum including AP U.S. History and elementary health courses.

Revised curriculum review committee proposal

The vote initially caused confusion among members of the media over whether a review of the history course was included in the proposal the board voted on. But Desmond emphasized afterward that a history course review has not specifically been approved or finalized.

The committee will include Jefferson County students, members of the community, content specialists, teachers, and instructional coaches. Details of how many of each group would be allowed on the committee or how some would gain members were not finalized during Thursday's meeting. It's not immediately clear whether the committees will review the history course.

The new committee will report directly to the board of education and will be open to the public.

Students across a majority of the 17 high schools in Colorado's second-largest school district have left classes in droves over the past few weeks over wording in Williams' proposal that the review committee should make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual right" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."

Before the vote, many people spoke out against Williams for calling students who have walked out of class to protest "pawns."

"This is America. Stop calling us names when we exercise our rights," said Lisa Cooke, a mother of two students.

Another parent, Robert Gleason, after pointing at the Colorado flag in the front of the room, told the board he didn't want the school district to follow in the path of Texas, where the school board has also objected to the Advanced Placement history standards.

Dozens of students took the podium, with just a minute each to speak. They delivered 40,000 signatures they say they gathered from around the country in support.

Williams refused calls to withdraw her original proposal in spite of the new compromise. "I would like to keep all of the offers on the table," she said.

Williams is one of the board's majority of three new conservative members who were backed by Republicans last year in the officially non-partisan elections, campaigning on their opposition to a proposed $1 billion tax increase for schools that failed by a wide margin on the ballot.

A few people supporting Williams complimented her Thursday night.

"Julie is the fighter on the board for the teachers as well, but most importantly it's for the students, and to see that education is about what America was founded on," said Anita Stapleton.

Dahlkemper, a Democrat who was elected to the board in 2011, said Williams' resolution went too far. She noted the movement in other places where state and local education officials have debated opting out of AP U.S. history over complaints that the new courses are un-American. The Texas state board of education, for example, has ordered teachers not to teach AP history.

"I think that's why it's raised so much concern among our parents, our community, and our students, because the question then becomes, `What really is the agenda behind this resolution?' And I can't answer that question," Dahlkemper said.

Ashlyn Maher, 18, a Chatfield High School senior who has been helping organize protests, said she doesn't want the board to move on to reviewing curriculum of other classes, such as AP literature, and deciding which books students can read.

"We are not going to settle for empty promises. We want the school board to listen and take action on what we've said," she said.

Sarena Phu, 17, one of several students who spoke to the crowd from the back of a pickup truck before Thursday's meeting, said some of the nation's greatest achievements, including civil rights and equality for women, were achieved through protests and social unrest.

Phu, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, praised the U.S. for being a nation where people from all backgrounds can thrive, but she said students need to learn about the negative sides of its story, including the mistreatment of Native Americans and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.

"Would you like to sweep us under the rug, too, just like our histories?" she asked.

(KUSA-TV © 2014 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)


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