For weeks, hundreds of high-school students staged raucous walkouts against a controversial conservative plan to review the U.S. history curriculum in Jefferson County, Colo., in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains. The students, worried that the school district would censor history and promote a political agenda, held signs reading “Teach us the truth.”
In response, Jefferson County school board agreed Thursday night to give students and parents a voice in the curriculum review, though it didn’t promise to listen.
The board voted 3-2 to approve a review committee that will include students, parents and administrators. It was an adjusted version of a plan proposed last month to establish a committee to review the district’s Advanced Placement U.S. history curriculum to promote patriotism and avoid encouragement of “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” According to the original plan the district’s history curriculum “should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.”
Opponents claim this is part of a nationwide conservative movement to take over school boards and rewrite textbooks to suit their views.
In the past two weeks, students from the state’s second-largest district have marched out to protest the proposed curriculum review. The walkouts have gained national attention as the country watches to see how this conservative school board will choose to represent history. Two Jefferson County high schools were forced to close this week when teachers didn’t show up to teach. Two others closed due to similar circumstances last month.
On Thursday evening, hundreds squeezed into the school district boardroom for more than two hours of public comment. Camera crews lined the walls. Outside, residents waved signs opposing the proposed plan and marched down Denver West Parkway. Others, who couldn’t fit inside, crowded around a makeshift TV screen that had been set up outdoors. And one teacher graded homework, the Denver Post reported.
Then students took the microphone, showing some 40,000 signatures they said they collected from around the country. They were particularly incensed at an earlier comment by board president Ken Witt that the students were merely “pawns” of the teachers in this debate.
“We find it insulting that you say that we are pawns of anyone else,” Chatfield High senior Ashlyn Maher said.
The initial plan was introduced late last month by board member Julie Williams, a conservative elected to the school board in November. She said Thursday night that her proposal was an attempt to promote transparency and accountability in the classroom — not to censor American history.
It has never been clear how the board would change the curriculum — other than to stress “positive” elements of history.
“Our community is saying no to censorship, and I agree with that,” Williams said.
But board member Lesley Dahlkemper, a Democrat elected three years ago, said the plan went too far.
“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,” she said.
It’s not immediately clear whether the committee will review the history course, only that the meetings must be held in public. Still, many students and parents remain concerned that the conservative board will use the committee to change history as well as other courses, Fox Denver reported.
“I want U.S. AP History to be available for my children. Slap a warning label on it for those who fear critical thinking, but don’t limit my children’s educational choices,” parent Lisa Cook said at the board meeting.
“What’s next? Are you going to choose science? Are you going to take down English?” student Jackson Curtis asked. “We already have two committees that do just this, they review the curriculum for the district.”