[dropcap]A[/dropcap] student-walkout movement that started small yesterday, with dozens of Evergreen High School initiating the action, has spread today, with reports that hundreds of students from schools around the district stretching west of Denver into the Rocky Mountain foothills have walked off campus. Some are planning to congregate at the school Board headquarters in West Pleasant View near Golden.
Tensions have been running high and higher in the district after a majority of conservative members was elected to the board last November and have aggressively pursued controversial reform measures ever since, mostly having to do with teacher performance review and employment contracts.
But last week, the three conservative members the five-member board proposed a new curriculum committee that would review American history material in order to promote patriotism, respect for authority, and the free market. It would also be tasked with trimming back readings about “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
The move echoes similar proposals cropping up around the country. Conservatives have decried changes to Advanced Placement History exams, which they say place too much emphasis, for example, on protest movements and on the plight of U.S. slaves and of American Indian wiped out by European colonization.
The Colorado chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union sent out a release this afternoon voicing its concern with the board proposal and expressing solidarity with students, teachers and parents protesting the plan.
“The ACLU of Colorado is watching with a concerned eye attempts by Jefferson County School District officials to institute an apparently ideologically-motivated review of the district’s history curriculum,” read a statement by Executive Director Nathan Woodliff-Stanley. “State-funded school curriculum should promote academic integrity, not ideological agendas. A committee that polices educational materials for insufficient devotion to patriotism or a lack of respect for authority runs the real danger of substituting propaganda for education.”
Concerned teachers staged a “sick out” that closed two schools in the district last week, reported The Denver Post. Students began organizing this week’s protests on Facebook over the weekend.
Education policy reporter Nic Garcia, who writes for Chalkbeat, has been tweeting from the district streets this morning. He wrote that 200 students walked out of Pomona High School and that the crowd was “younger and rowdier” than district student protesters yesterday.
County Superintendent Dan McMinimee has been scrambling to contain the protests. He asked that students to refrain from traveling to the Education Center in West Pleasant View, saying that he would visit schools instead.
Students penned a letter to McMinimee yesterday in which they that, like their teachers, they prioritize “honesty in their classrooms” and don’t see an honest curriculum as a threat to patriotism.
As observers are pointing out, the students are demonstrating on the ground today strong familiarity with the long history of civil disobedience that has marked U.S. history, from the colonists who left England to escape oppression and the revolutionaries who broke from Britain to establish the republic to the protesters who won expanded civil rights in the 1960s and the equality champions of today who are winning greater rights for gay Americans on the streets and in the courts.
“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,” said the ACLU’s Woodliff-Stanley.
Note: This story was updated to include quotes from the ACLU.
[ Photo by Nic Garcia. ]