ARVADA — Hundreds of Jefferson County students took to the streets today for the third school day in a row to voice their concerns over a proposed curriculum review panel they believe could stifle an honest teaching of U.S. history.
Meanwhile, Julie Williams, the suburban school board member who has proposed that the district review an advanced U.S. history curriculum, reaffirmed her position in an early morning statement to the media.
Williams, echoing concerns of conservatives across the country, believes the new curriculum for the Advanced Placement U.S. History course portrays the nation’s history in a negative context.
“I was truly surprised by the reaction of so many people regarding the AP U.S. History curriculum,” Williams said. “I must not have explained myself clearly. I thought everyone, or at least everyone involved in education, understood the huge debate and controversy surrounding the new [curriculum]. … Balance and respect for traditional scholarship is not censorship.”
Architects of the new curriculum and teachers who are using it have said the concerns are unfounded. Instead, the new curriculum guide actually allows teachers flexibility and focuses on key historical concepts that have shaped the nation’s identity.
Tuesday’s protest, made up of demonstrations across the county, is the largest so far. Hundreds of students walked out of Pomona and Arvada high schools between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. to busy intersections along the county’s main artery Wadsworth Boulevard. Students from Golden High School rallied at the district’s headquarters and some later moved to an intersection near Wheat Ridge High School to join students there.
Other schools that had planned protests include Arvada West and Ralston Valley high schools.
While the student protests have primarily aimed to voice concern about the proposed committee, some students are also demonstrating on behalf of their teachers. Tension between the county’s teachers and the school board’s majority appears to be at an all-time high. The conflict has led to a teachers union vote of no confidence in board chair Ken Witt and an apparent teacher “sick out” that closed two high schools.
“The frustration level is just so high right now among students and teachers,” said Kayla Greco, a senior at Pomona High. Greco led the walkout there. “It’s not just the teachers who are upset about changes.”
Student walkouts are likely to continue throughout the week.
Jeffco school officials said they’re monitoring social media, the main platform students have used to organize, and trying to communicate with parents as quickly as possible.
“I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner,” said Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee in a statement. “I do, however, prefer that our students stay in class.”
Jeffco officials this morning also dispatched central administrators to schools they knew had planned protests to help answer students’ questions. But that didn’t seem to deter students from rallying.
“I want the school board to know we don’t want to be sugar fed history,” said Leighann Gray, an Arvada High student. “They didn’t send anyone from the school board to talk to us. [The central administrator assigned to her school] is not from the board. So I don’t care.”
As the protests have grown in size, it is becoming less clear how much the students are speaking out versus acting out. Some students who left school to rally along Wadsworth were treating themselves to nearby fast food, running through intersections, and loitering in parking lots.
Others couldn’t articulate why they were protesting. Some students incorrectly believed the board had already acted and that the new curriculum was created because of the state’s new standards. Others believed teachers were going to see pay cuts if they didn’t comply with teaching American exceptionalism.
Student organizers, such as Greco, took it among themselves to self-police goofballs, including asking some to leave. Arvada authorities were also on hand observing students.
“It’s important that our community understand that no decisions have been made regarding the curriculum committee,” McMinimee said in his statement.
But there is no indication at this point Williams will withdraw her proposal.
Despite her call for balance in history classes, Williams’s statement concluded with her belief that students should be taught that America is uniquely great.
“I humbly ask our Jeffco history teachers to review their philosophical position on the [curriculum]. I think the majority will be surprised to find they agree. I invite them to join us while we investigate this curriculum together.”
The Jeffco school board may take the issue up at its Oct. 2 meeting.
Students from Golden High, who met with district staff during their rally, said they plan on addressing the board then.
“We weren’t as prepared as we should have been,” said Noelle Cohn, a Golden High senior. “We’ll be back in a civilized way to address the board.”
Most of the protests ended by the afternoon.
In an email to parents, Pomona High principal Andy Geise said, “This is our students’ school. As I see it, they are trying to make it the best they can. I appreciate our community’s support of our students. We have great kids here at Pomona. I’m proud of all of them.”