Update: Jeffco School Board Confirms Curriculum Review Off the Table

A student protest from last year. Additional images, plus video and more below.
A student protest from last year. Additional images, plus video and more below.
7News

Update: Earlier this week, we posted that a history curriculum review committee proposal by the Jefferson County School Board — one that prompted widespread student protests and unwelcome national publicity — had been quietly ditched.

A spokeswoman for the Jeffco School Board disputes that interpretation. According to her, the committee notion, and the history curriculum review at the heart of it, was actually put to rest last fall — something that was unclear at the time and has remained so for months afterward.

At the time, 9News noted that questions remained after an October 2 school board meeting. An excerpt from its coverage reads:

Ultimately the board adopted a compromise proposal penned by Superintendent Dan McMinimee to revise current review procedures to include students, teachers and other community members. But the committee that was approved is not course-specific and has not been charged at this point with reviewing AP U.S. History, according to Marlene Desmond with Jeffco Public Schools.

As this passage indicates, the revision of review procedures appeared to remain on the agenda — and while an analysis of the history curriculum wasn't specified at that time, neither was the idea permanently set aside.

Now, however, Michelle Balch Lyng, who works for a public-relations firm representing Jefferson County Schools, stresses that "the McMinimee amendment that you included" — it remains on view below — "was not the final amendment that was adopted. It was close, but the actual amendment simply added students and other community members to an existing committee. To be perfectly clear, no new committee was formed,

"Additionally, we considered this matter closed as of October," Balch Lyng adds.

A photo from last year's student protests against the Jefferson County School Board.
A photo from last year's student protests against the Jefferson County School Board.
7News

To bolster this assertion, Balch Lyng provided a timeline of events leading up to and immediately following the meeting from the Jeffco school district perspective.

Timeline

• Fall 2014: Jeffco citizens expressed concern that the new AP US History framework left out key historical figures, including Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr.

• September 18, 2014: At a board study session, a proposal was offered to establish a curriculum review committee with one of its tasks being a review of AP US History framework. The initial proposal stated “….material should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively…..Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder….” (not disobedience).  Other board members recommended removing those words and just having a curriculum review committee. No decisions were made at the September 18th meeting.

• October 1, 2014: Even the College Board recognized that there may have been confusion about its new framework. The College Board announced it would allow discussion of items not in the framework on the A.P. U.S. History tests, and added mentions of Martin Luther King, Jr. and other historical figures to the new framework, according to The Washington Post.

• October 2, 2014: At the next board meeting, the board approved changes to existing district curriculum committees, including adding students and community members to the committee as well as making the committee a board committee to ensure that meetings are public meetings (i.e., subject to transparency laws), and on the record. No new committee was created, and a review of AP US History was not part of the board-approved resolution. In fact, no curriculum is scheduled to be reviewed. The matter was considered over at that time.

• Week of February 16, 2015: Board Secretary John Newkirk sent out responses to constituents who had raised concerns about the APUSH issue. In a brief letter, he explained that there are no plans to review the AP US History curriculum in Jeffco Schools. This prompted multiple media inquiries, but no policy has actually changed.

Balch Lyng also shared the full statement attributed to Ken Witt, president of the Jeffco school board. It reads:

“There are no plans to review AP U.S. History.

"Last fall, a member of the Jeffco School Board proposed reviewing College Board's new A.P. U.S. History curriculum because some members of the community had concerns that key historical figures, such as Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King, Jr., had been left out of the curriculum.

"The Jeffco Board discussed reviewing the curriculum, but ended up passing revisions to current district policy that added community members and students to an existing review committee and rejected board-directed review of any curriculum. We are proud of the transparency and engagement that the addition of community members and, especially, students brings.”

Taken as a whole, these responses suggest strongly that the school board is not interested in reviving the controversy over the history-curriculum-review proposal. Once bitten, twice shy.

Continue for our previous coverage, which has been slightly revised to reflect these new developments.

Original post, 9:46 a.m. February 23: Last September and October, one of the biggest stories in the Denver metro area involved student protests in Jefferson County against the proposed assembling of a history curriculum committee tasked with emphasizing patriotism and downplaying civil disorder.

After large walkouts at schools throughout the district, the Jeffco school board seemed to move forward with plans to an overall curriculum review despite vociferous objections.

Now, however, the board has reportedly dropped the plan for a committee review of the history curriculum. Details below.

As we've reported, the Jeffco school board, which took a hard right turn following the November 2013 election, proposed a committee to recommend changes to the history curriculum at the high school level. Here's an excerpt from the committee's de facto mission statement:

Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. 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. Content pertaining to political and social movements in history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.

Word of this stance prompted teacher sickouts at Conifer and Standley Lake high schools, with students taking to the streets to offer their support — and these demonstrations led to many others this past September.

Granted, the school board had its supporters, as indicated by this tweet:

But the vast majority of people who turned up at a school board meeting on October 2, as seen in another tweet....

...opposed the idea. Meanwhile, tweeters deploying the cheeky hashtag #JeffcoSchoolBoardTweets held up the board to national ridicule. Here's one example....

...and another:

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Rather than ditching the committee idea, however, Superintendent Dan McMinimee offered an amendment, on view below, that added students and teachers to membership.

Board members Julie Williams, cohorts Ken Witt and John Newkirk, all of whom were elected in November 2013 and often vote as a block, immediately endorsed the notion, while the other two board members, Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, lobbied for additional time to review it, since it had been sent to them just after 5 a.m. that morning. However, they were outvoted, as they had often been in the preceding months.

Afterward, critics complained and a few more protests took place, but the controversy eventually quieted down — and the school board apparently isn't interested in revving it up again. Talking Points Memo, citing a CBS4 report on view below, states that the board decided to allow county curriculum to be reviewed by a current committee with student and parent representation rather than creating a new one tasked with that specific purpose.

In a statement, board president Witt is quoted as saying, "The JeffCo Board discussed reviewing the curriculum, but ended up passing revisions to current district policy that added community members and students to existing review committees and rejected board-directed review of any curriculum."

Witt added: “We are proud of the transparency and engagement that the addition of community members and, especially, students brings.”

Look below to see a 7News video from the October school board meeting, the aforementioned CBS4 piece and the curriculum amendment that was intended to placate protesters in October.


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