After fierce debate, Jeffco Board adopts curriculum review panels, includes teachers and students

Opponents accuse board majority of breaking policy

GOLDEN, Colo. - In a 3-2 vote, the Jefferson school board's conservative majority approved controversial curriculum review committees Thursday night with a compromise of including students and teachers.

The proposal passed despite fierce opposition from board members Lesley Dahlkemper and Jill Fellman, who accused the majority of rushing through the controversial curriculum assessment that's sparked weeks of student protests and teacher sick-outs.

Opponents who packed the meeting booed the vote, chanting "Recall! Recall!"

The Jefferson County debate over reviewing a revised Advanced Placement U.S. History -- or APUSH -- course has drawn national attention.

A Sept. 4 proposal by board member Julie Williams drew protests of censorship from students and teachers. The proposal stated in part that instructional "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."

Williams countered that she wanted the curriculum review to ensure that APUSH wasn't censoring the "history that has been taught in the country for generations".

Thursday night's vote came after three hours of impassioned and often thoughtful debate. More than 100 parents, students and other community members spoke on the issue.

The board majority -- Ken Witt, Julie Williams and John Newkirk -- embraced a compromise amendment from Superintendent Dan McMinimee to add students, students and community members to the review committees.

But Dahlkemper said McMinimee's compromise had only been emailed to her at 5:37 that morning. She said the rushed adoption of the proposal ran against the board's policy of giving members time to review and discuss proposals before voting.

"Once again, we're breaking board policy," Dahlkemper told Board President Witt, pounding the table for emphasis.

This brought opponents of the curriculum review to their feet, cheering and clapping for Dahlkemper

"Please be quiet so the board can conduct business," Witt told the crowd.

"This is the third time this has been on the agenda, Ms. Dahlkemper," Witt added.

Dahlkemper fired back, "Mr. Witt, you can try revisionist history all you want. But I will tell you I received this proposal at 5:37 this morning. We are breaking board policy…What's the rush?"

"This is the third meeting [on the issue] Mrs. Dahlkemper. How long do you want to take?" Witt replied.

"We have a good compromise position that reflects what we've heard from the community of including parents and students," Witt added.

Dahlkemper said flatly, "There's no compromise."

Sparks flew again as Board Member John Newkirk read the amended resolution, stating that the committee would review curriculum "for accuracy and omissions" and inform the board if they found instructional "materials that may reasonably be deemed to be objectionable."

Board member Fellman pounced when Newkirk read, "The committee's initial project will be a review of the AP U.S. History curriculum."

"I thought you said that that was not a priority for you, Mr. Newkirk," Fellman said. "I thought you told kids at Conifer High School and at Evergreen High School that we wanted to make sure our kids had the chance to study AP History in a way that was legislated by the college board."

"I don't understand. Were you lying to those students?" Fellman demanded.

Opponents in the audience applauded.

"Ms. Fellman, I'm simply reading from the original proposal set forward by Ms. Williams," Newkirk said.

Superintendent McMinimee offered his "middle ground" proposal minutes before the vote. It placed him in the role of peacemaker, bringing students and teachers into the review process after weeks of unrest and almost daily protests where students walked out of class, waving pickets signs on the street to honking cars.

"I think it's important for us to honor the teachers that teach these classes. I think there's some fabulous teachers that could lend some excellent experience to the discussion in either of these committees," McMinimee told the board.

"I believe that our students have shown this evening that they could lend a tremendous amount of information to this committee," he added. "I think that they would be an important part of the conversation."

Dahlkemper also praised students who marched up to the podium to defend their right to an unbiased education.

"I want to tell you that I am incredibly proud of you for standing up for academic integrity," she said. "This resolution that is before the board is too extreme and you deserve an unvarnished view of history."

Board members jumped into the fray from the start of the packed meeting.

"I hope that this is a defining moment for this board," said board member Julie Williams, who asked for a point of order and jumped ahead of the agenda by making a statement about her proposal to form a curriculum review committee. Specifically, she wanted the committee to review what she calls "censorship" in the new AP U.S. History curriculum.

Opponents, however, believe that the new curriculum actually covers a wider swath of history. They allege that Williams wants to be the censor.

"Clearly our community is saying lets assure there is no censorship," Williams said.

Students, parents and teachers have held protests against Williams' controversial proposal.

Williams' proposal -- and a teacher compensation change -- sparked several protests by students, teachers and parents within the district.

The school board is also divided. After Williams' statement, member Lesley Dahlkemper offered a motion to kill the proposal.

A round of applause followed from the crowd.

Related items:

The motion failed, with a vote that showed the divided nature of the board. The three new members, who ran on a conservative platform, all voted against Dahlkemper's motion.

The school board agreed to further alter the agenda Thursday night, moving public comment up to the top of the agenda. One student thanked Williams for the "lesson in civil disobedience."

At one point, seven students from Lakewood High Schools approached the podium and took turns addressing the board.

"The students of Lakewood High School…object to the absurd accusation that we are somehow pawns of our administration," said student Juliana Rissler.

She also criticized a highly publicized resolution "put forth by the board committee for curriculum review that states the course materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage and…promote  citizenship, patriotism, essentials, and benefits of the free enterprise system."

"Students of Lakewood High School object to this rhetoric," Whistler said, "because curriculum materials ought to offer historical truth and not promote a specified viewpoint or attitude. True patriotism ought to be based on accurate understanding of American history -- not a biased promotion of American Exceptionalism."

The crowd got riled up when a parent later asked people to "please stop encouraging students to walk out...and please stop using kids as pawns."

The room erupted in applause when parents ask three conservative board members to resign.

But supporters came to the conservative members' defense.

"I appreciate the board's effort to increase transparency," one person said. "I feel the need to thoroughly review [AP History]".

Other speakers wearing "We Support Julie" T-shirts -- a reference to Julie Williams -- thanked the conservative board members advocating the curriculum review.

One parent slammed Common Core -- a set of academic standards supported by President Barack Obama's administration -- as "Obamacare for education."

Yet some adults and students said they feared conservative board members were trying shape the history curriculum to fit their viewpoints.

"It doesn't matter what name you give it, this is committee is in my view a censorship committee," Robert Maynard said. "Our students cannot be shielded from exposure to information, ideas and viewpoints that anyone of us might disagree with," he said, because it's "just a few clicks away" on the Internet.

"What we can and should do is teach them how to process information, to recognize both propaganda and the subtle bias that is always present in history, journalism and nonfiction," Maynard added. "We must teach them to think critically about our past, present and collective future."

So many people arrived for the meeting that hundreds did not fit into the meeting room. They gathered outside the building to watch a projection screen set up on the lawn.

Prior to the meeting, hundreds gathered outside the building to protest both for and against Williams' proposal.

Print this article Back to Top