Oct 2, 2014 8:55 PM
Protesters pack meeting on education changes
The Associated Press
GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) Students and teachers fighting a plan to promote patriotism and downplay civil disobedience in some suburban Denver U.S. history courses packed a school board meeting Thursday where the controversial changes could face a vote.
Turnout was so high that the teachers union streamed video from the meeting room which holds a couple hundred people onto a big screen in the parking lot outside.
About 300 students, parents and teachers opposed to the proposal rallied in the parking lot and marched along nearby streets before the meeting.
Carole Morenz, holding a small American flag and a sign that said "History matters. Know the truth," traveled from Pueblo because she said she's worried the change in approach to teaching history could be the "biggest cultural shift of our lifetime."
"They will lose the knowledge of what made America great," said Morenz, adding that she has been concerned about problems in education since she began homeschooling her children in the 1980s.
Dozens of students took the podium, with just a minute each to speak. They delivered 40,000 signatures they say they gathered from around the country in support.
Students in a majority of the 17 high schools in Colorado's second-largest school district have left classes in droves over the past few weeks, waving signs and flags in protests organized by word of mouth and social media.
Many teachers also have been calling in sick, forcing school to be canceled some days.
"I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner," Superintendent Dan McMinimee said. "I do, however, prefer that our students stay in class. I have met with many students and answered their questions."
The protests started Sept. 19, the day after the Jefferson County school board proposed creating a committee to review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials "promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights" and don't "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
Board member Julie Williams, who originally proposed the review, and other backers of the proposal say students are being used as pawns by teachers, who are upset about a plan to base raises on an evaluation system.
Williams addressed the proposal at the start of the meeting, saying it was aimed at making the curriculum fair and was not censoring anything.
"I hope this is a defining moment for this board, that there is no one on the board who supports censorship," she said to some applause.
Williams is one of the board's majority of three new conservative members Ken Witt, John Newkirk, and Williams who were backed by Republicans last year in an officially nonpartisan election. They campaigned on their opposition to a proposed $1 billion tax increase for schools, which voters rejected by a wide margin.
None of the three returned calls Thursday.
Some of Williams' supporters rallied outside Thursday's meeting holding signs that said, "Thank you Julie Williams for taking a stand."
Witt, the board president, said last week that some students wrongly believe issues such as slavery will be eliminated from history classes under the proposal.
Lesley Dahlkemper, a Democrat and one of the two other board members elected in 2011, said she doesn't understand why her colleagues are pursuing the resolution.
"It simply goes too far," she said. She noted the movement in other places nationwide where education officials have debated opting out of AP U.S. history over complaints the new classes are un-American. The Texas state board of education, for example, has ordered teachers not to teach AP history.
"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," Dahlkemper said.
Yet there's no sign conservatives want to back off creating a review committee, although the latest proposal omits some of the more controversial language. McMinimee has said he will ask the board to appoint students to the committee.
Those changes likely won't satisfy the students who have been leaving class to protest. The history class was the first of the AP classes to be reviewed.
Sarena Phu, 17, one of several students who spoke to the crowd from the back of a pickup truck before Thursday's meeting, said some of the nation's greatest achievements, including civil rights and equality for women, were achieved through protests and social unrest.
Phu, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, praised the U.S. for being a nation where people from all backgrounds can thrive, but she said students need to learn about the negative sides of its story, including the mistreatment of Native Americans and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
"Would you like to sweep us under the rug, too, just like our histories?" she asked.
Associated Press writer Ivan Moreno contributed to this report.