JEFFERSON COUNTY — Students walked out of four different Jefferson County high schools on Wednesday, marking the fourth and largest day of protests against decisions or proposals made by the district’s school board.
As many as 700 students left classes at Chatfield and Dakota Ridge high schools around 8 a.m. Students at Bear Creek High School also indicated they would be protesting Wednesday morning.
Later, students at Alameda International High School walked out after a meeting with JeffCo superintendent Dan McMinimee.
Since Friday, students have stood together in opposition of a JeffCo Board of Education proposal to review new Advanced Placement history curriculum that has been called “anti-American” by some conservatives.
On Monday, 100 students, mostly from Evergreen High School, marched to JeffCo district headquarters in protest, this coming after many teachers at Standley Lake and Conifer high schools called in sick or took vacation days Friday, forcing the district to cancel classes for the day.
On Tuesday, students at Pomona, Arvada West and Ralston Valley high schools walked out of class, as well.
A great deal of the teachers in the district would likely support their students’ protests, considering the group issued a unanimous vote of “no confidence” in school board chairman Ken Witt earlier this month.
That vote had a great deal to do with a new teacher pay model, which was signed by the board last week before the first day of “sick outs” at Standley Lake and Conifer.
Under the new pay model, the starting teacher’s salary will go up about $5,000 a year, but raises will be determined based on performance. Teachers rated as ineffective or partially effective would receive only a one percent raise or the possibility of no raise at all.
Though the teacher pay model was signed by the school board, the board proposal to revise the district’s AP history curriculum is yet to come up for a vote.
In her proposal to form a committee for AP curriculum review, conservative JeffCo board member Julie Williams wrote, “Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.”
That proposal was tabled at the school board’s Sept. 18 meeting, and has since been amended, according to fellow board member John Newkirk, to exclude “the most controversial sections” of Williams’ initial proposal.
For her part, Williams issued a statement on Tuesday saying she was surprised by the negative reaction to the proposal, which is expected to come up for a vote at the next board meeting.
In the statement, Williams insisted “balance and respect for scholarship” is not censorship.
Williams has some like minds in the Republican National Committee, a group that has also criticized the new AP curriculum’s framework as omitting key aspects of U.S. history. That committee helped pass a review proposal that was similar to Williams’ in Texas.
After drawing outrage from parents and teachers, including over 16,000 signatures on a MoveOn.org petition, a fellow board member removed that language from the AP proposal last week.
Nathan Woodliff-Stanley, the executive director of Colorado’s division of the ACLU, also stands firmly against the proposal to review the AP curriculum, and had to chuckle at the response the proposal has drawn from the community.
“It’s ironic that an attempt to downplay examples of social change being accomplished through civil disobedience has spurred a community-wide crash course in just how important it is to be able to speak out and question authority in a just and democratic society,” Woodliff-Stanley said.
Despite the unrest, the district hopes to move forward soon.
“I think that there’s other ways that we can work through these differences (besides protests),” Superintendent Dan McMinimee said.
However, McMinimee is part of the problem in the eyes of many protesters.
The new Jefferson County superintendent was hired by the school board last year after the resignation of longtime superintendent Cindy Stevenson, who said she could not continue on as the newly-elected members of the board like Newkirk, Witt and Williams “did not respect me.”
McMinimee was the only candidate announced for the position, which angered many parents and teachers. McMinimee’s first proposed salary of $280,000 was also lambasted, and later reduced to $220,000, with up to $60,000 in incentives.