I want to start this post by thanking them. I thank you for what many adults have only been talking about, but somehow could not pull together. Unlooked for, unasked, unexpected, you students stood up and made everyone look, listen, and think. Along the way, you took responsibility for your own education. We could not be more proud of you.
Next, I want to thank the teachers, staff, principals, and original JeffCo leadership, including Dr. Stevenson, for the work they have done with these kids. If anyone had any doubt about whether Jeffco turns out good citizens, they can put it rest now. JeffCo turns out citizens who not only know the meaning of freedom and democracy, but are willing to sacrifice to defend it. Thanks to you teachers, JeffCo students have the admiration of the world.
But now it is time for the entire Jeffco community to be alert and listen. We commend these students for taking a lesson from so many notable American heroes on the power of peaceful civil disobedience. In exercising their rights to free speech and assembly these students managed to shine a light on the board majority much brighter than anyone had before. They brought to light issues with the board regarding curriculum censorship and respect for teachers.
WNW is trying to dismiss their efforts by calling them “union puppets” and doubting their ability to organize in such a short time-frame. Anyone who knows teens, knows how ludicrous this is. Frankly, every teen I know has a mind of his or her own, and is quite willing, given the chance, to express it. I’m quite certain many teachers often wish they had the kind of power over students attention that Witt and Williams acuse them of, especially on Friday afternoon.
As far as planning and executing the protests, well, if you doubt the ability of teenagers to plan such a mass event in such a short time, then simply offer up your house to a group of teens for a party tonight and see how fast they can text, tweet and FB the details.
Now imagine that power in the hands of the best and brightest of our students. The students that will take so many AP classes (and pass the tests) so that they will enter college as sophomores.
But now that the week is over, we need to be be diligent and not lose sight of the bigger picture. The proposed curriculum review committee is just one small piece of what is happening in Jeffco.
For months JeffCo School Board Watch has been monitoring the actions of the current board majority. One of their first actions was a back door deal to hire a ‘board only’ attorney despite District policy BDG that expressly provides for representation through the existing district attorney. At a minimum of $90,000 per year that continues to mount did they knew they were going to need an attorney for themselves and not the District?
Next two of the majority attempted to kill the expansion of the Deer Creek STEM, making public comments that the extra space in the school would be a great place for a charter.
The next month WNW extended $650,000 in no-string loans to charter schools that were faltering and already had outstanding loans. This from candidates that promised fiscal responsibility.
This was only the beginning. After the resignation of Jeffco’s Superintendent the board spent $44,580 in the ‘national’ search for a replacement, only to disregard all candidates but an Asst. Superintendent from DougCo. This was despite pleas from the public and the board minority to be given choices of candidates. This was also against the advice of the firm that was hired with that money.
The litany of issues continued to mount as the board majority violated the teacher contract, then threw out months of financial planning to vote in a pay scheme with a mere two weeks of research and NO teacher input.
Then along comes the Julie Williams’ proposal to review all Jeffco curriculum beginning with AP U.S. History (APUSH) and Elementary Health (these children do not have the power to assemble like those affected by APUSH, but are in the same boat of losing a vital curriculum).
Her proposal, copied mainly from a Texas proposal, states among other things that the committee will “inform the board of any objectionable materials.” Coupled with a committee selection process that would prevent the seating of any minority board candidate Ms. Williams would now like for us to all believe we have misunderstood her intent. And according to her own press release that she “thought everyone, or at least everyone involved in education understood the huge debate and controversy surrounding the new APUSH.” And that to be accused of censorship – “…is just ridiculous.”
It is this type of language and lack of respect for other viewpoints that has created skepticism about her motives. Furthermore, the district already has in place two committees that review curriculum and a textbook committee. These committees have educators and community members. In fact there are 24 policies in place to review or establish curriculum. YES! 24 policies!
These policies have allowed for the successful removal of material from school libraries when deemed necessary (such as graphic horror novels in elementary school libraries). Since the District already has a curriculum review process in place, with public input, and a way for parents to file complaints against material, why does Julie Williams feel the need to create another committee? Perhaps to inject her own viewpoint into the curriculum?
With the recent bad press from this move, Newkirk has attempted to edit the language of the proposal that created so much controversy. This has come across as an attempt to put lipstick on a pig. Newkirk’s letter to parents that have voiced opposition says, “At the risk of sounding blunt, the distress underlying many of the emails I’ve received compels me to get straight to the point: Chill, folks.” I’m sorry, but have you ever written to your boss, the people that put you into your position “Chill”?
It is this kind of defensive response that has created months of angst throughout the district. Furthermore, rather than listen to the concerns he defends the proposed committee by citing the Texas BOE. Perhaps not the best line of defense given that Newsweek just ran an article on the errors and revisionist history in the Texas history books since Texas BOE has relented to an extreme conservative takeover. (Note the word EXTREME).
As with every controversial move made by this majority there seems to be the familiar retort from the board majority. We just don’t understand like they do.
Unless Witt is responding – then we get these gems: “Teachers are using students for political action” ~ Ken Witt 9/23/14, 9news. “the union message coming down through the teachers to get kids to deliberately get out and protest something they don’t have any facts about whatsoever.” ~Ken Witt 9/25/14, Denver Post.
Are we to believe the kids can’t even read the proposal, since they ‘don’t have any facts whatsoever’?
It is this complete lack of respect for any dissenting opinion and the accusations of being union puppets that have led us to this point. This writer is not, nor has ever been a union member. And this highly educated writer, does understand. I simply don’t agree. And until the board majority can possibly grasp that dissenting, well-informed, unadulterated opinions exist and have the right to be heard it seems we are at an impasse.
Perhaps the board would benefit from reading their own policies. Policy GP 02- 7 clearly states, “The Board will encourage diversity of viewpoints in discussion and policy-making. Each Board member, irrespective of their personal position, will be accountable to the public, not as individual Board members, but as a collective body, and, will support the final determination of the Board, as a legitimate Board decision.”
Take heed Jeffco BOE majority. You ARE accountable to the public!
In this case, the public means teachers, residents, taxpayers, parents and most importantly THE STUDENTS. They have voices and they are making those voices be heard loud and clear.
If you do not heed those voices, the next ones you hear maybe uttering a word that begins with “R”.
Endnote: Ms. Williams press release claims that the APUSH curriculum is “unresearched.” This seems ludicrous. I have to ask, what would a hand picked committee of 9 community members be able to add, that was not covered by the writers of the curriculum? Those writers are
Kevin B. Byrne
Emeritus Professor of History
Gustavus Adolphus College, St. Peter, MN
Editor, OAH Magazine of History and Assistant to the Executive Director of Organization of American Historians, 2004-2006
Edward M. Dickson, Jr.
History Department Chair and Teacher
Providence Day School, Charlotte, NC
Winner, Organization of American Historians Tachau Pre-Collegiate Teaching Award, 2002
National and State Winner, Daughters of the American Revolution, Outstanding Teacher of American History, 2011
Winner, North Carolina History Teacher of the Year, 2012
Academic Dean and Assistant Upper School Director (former History Department Chair and Teacher) The Bryn Mawr School for Girls, Baltimore, MD
Geraldine Ann Hastings
Social Studies Department Chairman and History Teacher
Catonsville High School, Catonsville, MD
Winner, National Secondary Social Studies Teacher of the Year, National Council for the Social Studies, 2003 National and State Winner, Daughters of the American Revolution, Outstanding Teacher of American History, 2004
John P. Irish
Carroll Senior High School, Southlake, TX
National and State Winner, Daughters of Colonial Wars, U.S. History Teacher of the Year, 2014
Emma Jones Lapsansky-Werner
Professor Emeritus of History
Haverford College, Haverford, PA
Member, Executive Committee, Organization of American Historians, 2003-2007 Author, Neighborhoods in Transition: William Penn’s Dream and Urban Reality
Cassandra A. Osborne
History Teacher (retired)
Oak Ridge High School, Oak Ridge, TN
Director, Oak Ridge Schools, SECME, Inc. (formerly Southeastern Consortium for Minorities in Engineering)
Second Place, Daughters of the American Revolution, Outstanding Teacher of American History, 1991
Suzanne M. Sinke
Associate Professor, History
Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL
Fulbright Teaching and Research Award Winner, 1999-2000 and 2013 Member, Executive Board, Social Science History Association, 2003-06 Member, Executive Board, Immigration and Ethnic History Society, 2005-08 Author, Dutch Immigrant Women in the United States, 1880-1920
Timothy N. Thurber
Associate Professor, History
Virginia Commonwealth University, Richmond, VA
Author, The Politics of Equality: Hubert H. Humphrey and the African American Freedom Struggle, 1945-1978
Hardly the kind of people who would develop a curriculum without research!