Oct 2, 2014 4:06 PM

Protesters to pack meeting on education changes

The Associated Press

DENVER (AP) Students and teachers fighting a plan to promote patriotism and downplay civil disobedience in some suburban Denver U.S. history courses are expected to pack a school board meeting Thursday where the controversial changes could face a vote.

Turnout is expected to be so high that the teachers union plans to stream video from the meeting room which holds a couple hundred people on a big screen in the parking lot outside. Students said they'll protest with teachers before the school board meeting. A walkout planned at a school Thursday morning didn't take place after the principal sent a letter to parents asking them to discourage their children from participating.

The principal at Golden High School, Brian Conroy, said he is "proud" that students have made their opinions known, but a walkout now would be counterproductive and unnecessary because students have already gotten the board's attention.

Students across 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.

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 that the committee review materials for classes, and other backers of the proposal say students are being used as pawns by teachers, who are upset about the plan to base raises on an evaluation system and have been staging sick-ins, where they call in sick and force school to be canceled some days.

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 the officially non-partisan elections, campaigning on their opposition to a proposed $1 billion tax increase for schools that failed by a wide margin on the ballot.

None of the three returned calls Thursday.

Witt, who is the board president, said last week that some students wrongly believe issues such as slavery will be eliminated from history classes under the proposal.

"It's never OK to use kids as pawns," Witt said last Thursday.

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 state and local 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.

Former superintendent, Cindy Stevenson, who resigned shortly after the 2013 elections over differences with board members, said the board's political leanings were clear and she's not surprised by the battle.

"I think you could easily see where they were going," she said.

She said teachers should be trusted to manage the curriculum.

"I was a huge believer in teachers," she said of her time as superintendent. "And I never had teachers fail to tell me when they thought something wasn't working."

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. Superintendent Dan 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.

Ashlyn Maher, 18, a Chatfield High School senior who has been helping organize protests, said she doesn't want the board to move on next to reviewing curriculum of other classes, such as AP literature, and deciding which books students can read.

"We are not going to settle for empty promises. We want the school board to listen and take action on what we've said," she said.

Now that every school in the district has staged a protest, Maher said there is a sense that students should wait and see what the board does next before staging more demonstrations. No one is trying to force students to stop walking out, she said.

"We've had nothing but support," she said.


Associated Press writer Ivan Moreno contributed to this report.


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