Despite protests, JeffCo moves forward with ‘compromise’ curriculum review plan

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(Photo: CPR/Nathaniel Minor)
<p>Protesters opposed to the Jefferson County School Board majority march over Interstate 90 in Golden, Colo. on Thursday, Oct. 2, 2014.</p>

The majority of the Jefferson County School Board voted to create a curriculum review committee over the loud protests of teachers, parents and students on Thursday.

The vote, however, was on a new proposal put forward by Superintendent Dan McMinimee that was significantly different than an earlier version that sparked weeks of protests in the district.

“The proposal I’m putting forward today is the middle ground,” McMinimee said Thursday night. But loud chants of “recall” from the crowd as the vote happened indicated that not everyone there agreed. Hundreds packed the room, with more watching the proceedings on video screens on the lawn near the Jefferson County Public Schools building in Golden.

McMinimee’s proposal, which he repeatedly characterized as a compromise, now calls for students, history teachers and community members to be part of a “purely advisory” committee. It was his attempt to fill the committee with people knowledgeable about history, not just members chosen by the school board.

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The earlier proposal, put forward by conservative board member Julie Williams at the board’s last meeting in mid-September, would have allowed board members to hand-pick people to serve on the curriculum committee. The committee also would have promoted patriotism and downplayed civic unrest in history classes.

The board minority -- Jill Fellman and Lesley Dahlkemper -- Thursday night pleaded for more time to follow board policy and vote on McMinimee’s proposal in the next meeting but the majority -- Williams, Ken Witt, and John Newkirk -- refused. Williams also declined to withdraw her original proposal.

The action could have a big impact because the College Board, the national organization that designs and administers the Advanced Placement framework and exams, has threatened to remove its designation from any class that has been significantly modified.

Rowdy public comment

Students, teachers and parents passionately pleaded and derided the school board for Williams’ original proposal, which has been circulated widely in the last few weeks.

“You call our kids pawns. You call our teachers union thugs,” Michelle Patterson, president of the JeffCo PTA, said in reference to comments made by school board members in recent weeks. “We don’t allow bullying in the classroom. Why do you think you can do it?”

Students, especially, took offense at school board member Witt’s comments to local media that they were “pawns” of the teachers’ union.

“We are quite informed about this, and find it insulting,” says Ashlyn Maher, a student as Chatfield Senior High School. “It is our education at stake.”

One parent, Jennifer Leduc Smith, was particularly animated, telling the board "hell hath no fury like a scorned parent."

A majority of speakers Thursday night, including every student that addressed the board, opposed Williams’ proposal.

Williams does have supporters, including one man upset about the ongoing protests.

“While I respect the rights of students to protest, they should at least be protesting the right entity, the College Board, not the JeffCo School Board,” said Jimmy McFarland.

And he told teachers, “Please stop encouraging students to walk out. Please leave your issues and your politics out of the classroom.”

Earlier in the afternoon, hundreds of protesters marched from the Jefferson County Public Schools office across Interstate 70 during rush hour traffic. Before she joined the march, kindergarten teacher Laura Grims said the board has not listened to the needs of those in the district.

“Before they make rash decisions, they really need to get input from the actual teachers, students and parents in the community. It seems like they are pushing through their ideals and politics without truly representing the community,” Grims said.