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JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. - Hundreds of students poured out of at least five Jefferson County schools on Tuesday to protest what they say is the Jeffco School Board's attempt to whitewash history. Protests also continued on Wednesday at two other schools.
About 200 students walked out of Pomona High School in Arvada at 8:30 a.m. gathering at Wadsworth Boulevard, 7NEWS Reporter Tyler Lopez observed.
"My daughter and her friends at 80th and Wadsworth. Fighting for education. Pomona High School," Robin Reed Johnson posted on the Denver Channel's Facebook page.
Around 9:40 a.m. about 300 students at Arvada West walked out, holding signs and chanting as they marched along the sidewalk and stood along the street.
At issue is a proposed curriculum review in Jefferson County that could revise AP U.S. History to promote positive aspects of U.S. history and heritage, while avoiding material on civil disorder and social strife.
"Our entire history, things that changed America for the better, were acts of civil disobedience," said Debbie Velarde, a junior at Wheat Ridge High School which also had a smaller walkout of about 40 students. "The Declaration of Independence was an act of civil disobedience."
"An idea is to censor U.S. history so they can't talk about some of the negatives, or they don't want to talk about civil disobedience, which is censorship," said Arvada West junior Cole Cuttitta. "And censorship's communism, censorship's national socialism, censorship is terrible."
Tuesday was the third consecutive school day that has been disrupted by protests.
Students and teachers are upset with recent changes within the school district's leadership.
For the students, the dispute is mostly over an effort to review how classes like Advanced Placement U.S. History are taught.
The school district proposed creating a curriculum review board that would make sure materials in history class do not "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."
That has many students, parents and educators concerned about censorship.
"What we really want is a promise from them that they won't restrict the content that is taught in our classes," said student Eric Temple. "Because we believe that if they restrict that content then we're not going to get the education that we think we should."
"I tend to think I'm a good student. And I get along very well (with everyone)," said Pomona High junior Julia Baskin. "So, they (the teachers) were all very happy that I took my rights and I ... believed in something and I followed through with it."
7NEWS discovered even the school board is at odds with itself over the proposed review.
Board president Ken Witt told 7NEWS on Tuesday, "the students who are walking out are misled."
Witt said there is no proposal to change the history curriculum and the walkouts are a result of "a terrible amount of misinformation."
But board member Lesley Dahlkemper disagreed. She said this proposal will lead to a review of the curriculum.
She went on to say, "This is too extreme for Jefferson County."
A Facebook page called Arvada West Walk Out said: "The point is to make a statement about being against these changes, so instead of simply leaving the school we will line up along 64th with posters, signs, anything that shows that we are standing up for ourselves and our teachers."
A similar Facebook page was created by students at Chatfield as well, encouraging a walkout.
Some students at Lakewood High School, instead of staging a protest, went to Jeffco Schools headquarters on Tuesday morning and met with Jeffco Schools Superintendent Dan McMinimee.
McMinimee has said repeatedly that the school board proposal concerning the curriculum review panel has not been passed, and is not in effect, and some people are just jumping to conclusions.
"I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner. I do, however, prefer that our students stay in class. I have offered to meet with any students and answer their questions, which is what I did yesterday with the Evergreen High School students and today with Lakewood High students. Other members of my leadership team have also been meeting with students, answering their questions. Our most important priority is to keep our children safe during these demonstrations. It’s also important that our community understand that no decisions have been made regarding the curriculum committee."
At 4 p.m. Tuesday, after the school day ended, McMinimee again addressed the protests:
"I want them to feel like the adults around them are supporting them and trying to get to a good resolution here," he said. "I hope, now that they've taken these steps and made their point, that everybody will take a breath and -- let's get back to learning."
--U.S. HISTORY TO PROMOTE PATRIOTISM? --
According to a spokeswoman for the Jeffco School District -- Colorado's second largest school district -- the board member's proposal to form a panel to review AP U.S. History and elementary health curriculum has been tabled, but will be discussed at the next school board meeting in October.
The curriculum committee would be a 9-member committee, seated by the school board.
According to the proposal from Jeffco School Board of Education member Julie Williams, the committee would make sure that U.S. history materials "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 U.S. history should present balanced and factual treatments of the positions."
The panel "would review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions, conformity to Jefferson County academic standards, and to inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed objectionable. The committee shall regularly review texts and curricula according to priorities that it establishes," according to the Jeffco School board proposal.
"I must not have explained myself clearly. I thought everyone, or at least everyone involved in education understood the huge debate and controversy surrounding the new APUSH (Advanced Placement U.S. History). To be accused of censorship? 'Seriously?' That is just ridiculous. I am advocating for just the opposite," Williams wrote.
"APUSH is new. This is important to state because some may not know it is NEW. It came into existence quite recently under dubious and secretive circumstances (just like the Common Core). If fully implemented, APUSH would greatly modify and standardize the teaching of US History in every high school in America," she continued. "APUSH rejects the history that has been taught in the country for generations. It has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American History for generations. Let me give you some examples of who is omitted: Jefferson, Adams, Madison, Franklin with not even a mention of Martin Luther King, Jr. who was on the forefront of the civil rights movement. It ignores lessons on the Boston Tea Party, Lexington, Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address and the list continues." (Read her full letter.)
The ACLU of Colorado late Tuesday issued a statement in support of the students who walked out.
"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. It’s troublesome, especially during a week in which the ACLU and anti-censorship advocates across the country recognize Banned Books Week, that the curriculum review committee would be charged with identifying and referring so-called 'objectionable materials' to the school board. 'Objectionable' is a standard that lends itself to censorship by empowering a small few to judge content based on their own personal or religious beliefs. 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.”