Jeffco board majority claims compromise, OKs new curriculum review process with changes

GOLDEN — The Jefferson County Board of Education tonight amended established policies to reconfigure the district’s curriculum review system and place it under the board’s purview.

Whether the reshaped committees, which make up the review process, will take up the issue of an advanced history course is to be determined.

The final makeup of the process — along with its assigned tasks — is a departure from the original draft that set off a firestorm in Jeffco, the state’s second largest school district, over the course of the past month.

Created by merging existing policies, the new review process will be made up of curriculum specialists, parents, students, teachers, and board-appointed community members.

Final touches still need to be worked out. It’s also unclear whether the committee — or committees — will be formed at the board’s leisure or only after a direct challenge to particular curriculum is made.

The board’s majority — made up of Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Julie Williams — called it a compromise. But board members Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper cried foul.

“What’s the rush?” Dahlkemper asked in one of the many sharp exchanges she had with board chair Witt. She asked Newkirk and Williams to table their proposals and allow the board to take the issue up again.

But Witt refused to entertain a delay.

“It’s my position that all of the objectives are met in [the new proposal],” Witt said, highlighting the new committee will consist of a more varied collection of constituents.

The board came close many times during their debate to a rare full compromise, thanks in part to Superintendent Dan McMinimiee. The board majority’s final resolution is largely based on McMinimee’s recommendation. At times, it appeared Fellman, normally in the minority, was close to approving changes to existing policies, as long as the committees remained in the purview of the superintendent and his team, not the board.

Board member Lesley Dahlkemper, center, answered questions Thursday night before the Jeffco board meeting. (Nicholas Garcia )

“It’s important to think about our role — our role is to direct the superintendent,” she said. “We need to allow him to do his job.”

Witt said he wanted the committee to report to the board to ensure transparency.

McMinimee, who appeared perturbed at times during the debate, said a district committee could be open to the public.

Witt wasn’t convinced.

Originally proposed by board member Williams, the curriculum review committee would have sought to ensure an advanced U.S. history course promoted patriotism and condemned civil disorder.

Williams, echoing the concerns of fellow conservatives, believes the new Advanced Placement U.S. history framework, a guide for teachers across the nation, emphasizes the worst of the nation’s history and skips over characters like Thomas Jefferson and Martin Luther King, Jr.

Architects of the framework, teachers, and other reports discredited Williams claims. Local television news station KDVR, for example, found references to all of the historical figures Williams believes are left out in each of the approved textbooks for the course.

But Williams’ request — coupled with ongoing conflicts between a vocal group of teachers and parent, and the board — ignited a dozen days of acrimony in the suburban county. Teachers called in sick or took personal days en masse, prompting the district to cancel classes at four high schools. And thousands of students, mostly high schoolers, left their classrooms to protest at busy intersections. They waived signs decrying censorship.

Organizations like the ACLU and the National Coalition Against Censorship issued statements condemning the proposal. And the College Board, the organization behind the framework and aligned test, which students may take for college credit, threatened to strip Jeffco of its ability to offer the class under the College Board banner.

Separately, the College Board released an update to its framework Wednesday. It reiterated local teachers and school districts, not the College Board, chooses what materials to use in class and, among other points, “the AP scoring rubrics award points based on the accurate use of historical evidence, not on whether a student takes one specific position on an issue.”

Back in Golden, community protests, which caught the national media’s eye, resurged today outside the district’s headquarters. Hundreds of students, parents, and teachers rallied for more than an hour before the board met.

“We want the curriculum review committee voted down,” Chatfield High School student Ashlyn Maher told a crowd of about 250 people before the meeting started. “We shouldn’t even be talking about this, because there are already two committees in place to take on any concerns about curriculum. Why the board majority believes they need their own select, special committee smacks of hidden agendas.”

A smaller crowd supportive of the proposed review committee gathered as well.

“I feel bad because the kids feel we’re against them,” said Regina Hilton, a Jefferson County mother. “And we’re not.”

As expected, the meeting was one of the most well-attended and politically charged in recent years. Several speakers who opposed the committee suggested the board majority resign. And when some speakers went over their time, audience members who opposed the speaker’s views chanted “time,” or “thank you” until they stopped speaking.

Hundreds of students, parents, teachers, and community members filed in and out of the board room to address the board. Their speeches — for or against the committee — were captured by cameras from both local and national media outlets.

Students, more polished and informed since their walkouts, reiterated their opposition to the review committee.

“It may not matter to you if we lose our AP designation, but it does to us,” said Eric Temple, an Evergreen High School student.

Turing to board member Williams, he said, “thank you for the lesson in civil disobedience.”

Others turned in an online petition signed by 40,000 Internet users urging the board to spike the proposal.

Others explained to the board the value of the advanced history class and urged them to kill the proposed committee.

“Learning about America’s past mistakes will not result in students bashing on their county, but rather to take a nuanced view on the world today,” said Jessica Yan, a Standley Lake student. “The students of Jeffco are standing up for themselves, and for their friends, family, teachers and most importantly, their education. So are you with us?”

The majority of adult speakers also opposed the committee.

“In only the last ten days I have received hundreds of emails and phone calls from parents who are angry and fearful about this committee,” said Michele Patterson, president of the Jeffco PTA organization. “I guarantee you, these parents, who stand firmly behind our students, are not anyone’s ignorant pawns. If the voices of our teachers, if the cries of our students, mean nothing to you, 13,000 angry parents should get your attention. Or will you find a way to denigrate us as well?”

Another, Mary Parker, said the opposition to the proposed committee crossed generational and politically ideological lines.

“It’s time the board majority disenthrall itself with the idea that it’s only the teachers union that disagrees with its actions,” she said.

School board member Julie Williams, left, answered questions Thursday night at the Jeffco school board meeting. (Nicholas Garcia )

Speakers who appeared to support the curriculum review also addressed other hot button education issues, including the Common Core State Standards.

Donna Jack, who spoke in favor of the committee, said the board can’t rely on its districts’ committees alone.

“The board already has plenty of committees and experts at their fingertips,” Jack said. “[But] The point of the committee is to have citizens who are able to do the homework. The board certainly doesn’t have time to do the job.”

Another speaker supportive of the curriculum review committee rattled off a list of other community committees that reports to board. He highlighted one such committee that was established in a few years ago to help cut the budget.

“[But] we have no community advisory input one of the two most important elements to education,” said Ed Sutton. “[A committee] will greatly improve the effectiveness of the board.”

Jefferson County parent Kevin Thistle told the board he supported the board majority and was thankful he didn’t have their job.

Lakewood High School student Anna Tiberi, after the meeting, said she was disappointed in the outcome.

“I am purely confused at how these people on the board can even pretend that they are working toward our best interests,” she said. “I’m glad that i will be gone so that I can fight them without any negative repercussions on me or those I respect.”