Voters in Jefferson County, Colo., are petitioning to recall three conservative members of the local school board who caused a national stir last fall after criticizing the Advanced Placement U.S. History course for being insufficiently patriotic.
Residents collected more than twice the number of required signatures on a petition to recall the three conservative members of the five-member Jefferson County Board of Education.
Jeffco United for Action said it had more than 110,000 on petitions to recall board members John Newkirk, Ken Witt and Julie Williams. The group needs 15,000 valid signatures for each board member it wants to unseat in order to force a recall election.
The group had until September to collect 15,000 signatures for each; it turned in an estimated 36,000 to 37,000 for each.
Now, the Jefferson County clerk’s office has 15 business days to verify the signatures. Once verified, unless someone challenges the signatures, the recall could be held the same day as the Nov. 3 general election. The school district pays the cost of the recall election.
Witt, the board chairman, said he welcomed “the opportunity to have a dialogue with the public about the great accomplishments we’ve had in Jeffco.” He pointed to a new merit pay system for teachers that awards bonuses “tied to performance and not just time served” as well as equalized funding for charter schools and traditional public schools and full-day kindergarten for low-income children.
“There’s been a lot of change, and change is hard,” Witt said, adding that he does not plan to challenge the signatures.
The conservative advocacy group Americans for Prosperity is going door to door in Jefferson County, urging voters to support the positions taken by Newkirk, Witt and Williams.
“This increased focus on education in Jeffco is an opportunity to help educate people about the positive reforms that have been implemented,” Michael Fields, the Colorado state director for the group, wrote in an e-mail.
Since Newkirk, Witt and Williams were elected in November 2013, they frequently clashed with the parent-teacher association, the teachers union and students.
Activists behind the recall effort say the three have violated open-meeting laws, spent lavishly on legal expenses and hired a new superintendent at a salary significantly higher than his more experienced predecessor.
But the conflict that drew national attention to the state’s second-largest school district came last fall, when Newkirk, Witt and Williams indicated they wanted to “review” the content of the AP U.S. History course taught in county high schools because it failed to promote patriotism.
The College Board, which administers exams to students upon the completion of AP courses, revised the history curriculum in ways that have angered conservatives, who say it paints a darker picture of the country’s heritage and undervalues concepts such as “American exceptionalism.”
The revised AP history curriculum adds two periods: life in the Americas from 1491 to 1607, which addresses the conflicts between Native Americans and European settlers, and from 1980 to the present, which includes the rise of social conservatism and the battles over issues such as abortion, as well as the fight against terrorism after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and demographic and economic shifts of the 21st century.
Newkirk, Witt and Williams wanted to set up a new committee to review the curriculum with the goal of assuring that courses — in the words of Williams — “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage” and “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system.”
Williams also wrote that “materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder [or] social strife.”
But that’s exactly what happened across the county last fall — there were teacher “sickouts” that shut down two schools, walkouts by thousands of students and a massive community protest along the county’s main boulevard.
The board backed off the idea of reviewing the AP U.S. History course and no changes were made to the way it was taught, Witt said.