Citizens who spoke at the State Board of Education’s monthly public comment session Wednesday gave members a taste of the passions that have roiled the Jefferson County Schools in recent weeks.
The Jeffco board “is attempting to bring politics and a private agenda to this wonderful district we love,” said retired Jeffco teacher Kristine Kraft.
The morning comment session was pretty one-sided, with four witnesses criticizing the Jeffco board and no one speaking up in support. Ann Rutkovsky, representing the Jeffco League of Woman Voters, said, “Our observers have become increasingly concerned about what’s happening on that board.”
Over the last year SBE comment sessions have become a well-used forum for public remarks about a variety of issues, many of which the board has no authority over. The comment sessions have been dominated by Common Core and testing, and the board recently started scheduling two sessions per meeting to accommodate the public.
Board members generally don’t respond to comments but made an exception to that on Wednesday morning.
“I think the State Board of Education would be remiss if we didn’t say anything,” said Democrat Elaine Gantz Berman of Denver. “I think you should continue being strong and continue representing your perspective,” she said. “Hold the school board accountable.”
Democrat Jane Goff of Arvada, a former Jeffco teacher and administrator, said the conflict “is extremely upsetting to see,” adding, “I know that Jefferson County will rise up together and find a solution.”
Board chair Paul Lundeen, a Republican from Monument, said, “I am always heartened when people are engaged in their civic life” but cautioned that people who want “to go back to the way it was” should remember that student achievement levels are not what they should be in Jeffco or statewide.
And Republican member Marcia Neal of Grand Junction reminded the speakers, “Colorado is a local control state. I hope you all know we can’t do anything about local districts.”
Other speakers Wednesday were critical of the AP U.S. History course, an element in the Jeffco debate.
Retired Air Force Col. Curtis Dale of Parker – wearing full uniform – said he was “insulted, disappointed and even infuriated” about the “advocacy history” he believes is in that program. “It is biased against America.”
Jeffco’s troubles got less attention during the second, late-afternoon session. Speakers focused their ire on the new AP course – many criticized the perceived lack of military history – and the Common Core State Standards.
Here’s a sampling:
- “Anyone who supports this APUSH does not deserve to live in America.” Anita Stapleton, Pueblo. Stapleton has become a recognized anti-Common Core activist. She also recited lyrics from singer Lee Greenwood’s “God Bless the U.S.A.,” prompting her supporters to stand up.
- “My grandchildren will not be allowed to take AP history or any of the Common Core exams. I can tell you right now this grandmother is not going down without a fight. Are we trying to make brown shirts out of our school children?” – Andrea Gilmore, Denver
- “Common Core is a global plan.” Delores Kopp, who identified herself as a “concerned citizen”
- The allegedly un-American tone of the AP U.S. history course “even makes young people more susceptible to Islamic indoctrination.” Mary Tuneberg of Adams County
A couple of speakers also supported the embattled Jeffco board. Toni Walker of Loveland said, “I applaud the Jeffco board for standing up.” Jeffco resident Dee Oltmans said, “We have someone who is speaking up for us, and we love it.”
In contrast to the morning session, board members didn’t say anything following the afternoon testimony.