Colorado curriculum vote leaves questions on history class debate

The school board in Jefferson County, Colo., voted last night to draw more community members into the course review process amid a debate over history curriculum that has led more than 1,000 students to walk out of class.

The so-called “compromise” plan, which passed by a vote of 3-2, will change existing curriculum review committees to include more students, teachers and community members. But the plan avoided directly addressing a controversial school board proposal to oversee Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum.

After the College Board created a new framework for AP U.S. courses in 2012, it drew criticism from groups who said that those standards could allow classes to portray the U.S. in a negative light. This school year, those changes went into effect, drawing controversy from conservative school boards.

In Jefferson County, the second-largest school district in Colorado, school board member Julie Williams, one of three conservative board members elected in November, proposed the creation of a committee to oversee this curriculum.

The proposal states that class materials should “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.”

Classes should not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law” and the course materials should portray the U.S. in a positive light, the proposal said.

Students protesting the proposal say that it amounts to censorship of their education. School board member John Newkirk has presented another draft of the proposal that removed these sections, but the draft has not been formally introduced to the board.

At the Jefferson County school board meeting last night, Williams said that her proposal could increase transparency for the school district and refused to withdraw it.

The meeting continued with over two hours of public comments, including those from students who gathered more than 40,000 signatures in support of their protests.

Many spoke out against school board president Ken Witt, who had called students “pawns” of teachers for the protests, The Denver Post reported.

“We find it insulting that you say that we are pawns of anyone else,” Chatfield High School senior Ashlyn Maher said.

Lesley Dahlkemper, a school board Democrat, voiced opposition to the Williams’ proposal, local Denver station KUSA reported.

“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.

The new framework for AP U.S. History courses has caused conflict in other regions as well. In Texas, the state school board passed a resolution in September requesting that College Board rewrite the recent changes. And a South Carolina parent group has criticized the curriculum for not specifically mentioning certain historical figures, such as the founding fathers.

PBS NewsHour education coverage is part of American Graduate: Let’s Make it Happen, a public media initiative made possible by the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.