GOLDEN, Colo. — A suburban Denver school board refused to back off a proposed review of the Advanced Placement U.S. history course on Thursday despite waves of protest from dozens of students, parents and residents who accused the board’s new conservative majority of trying to influence children with their political views.
Some in the audience yelled “resign” and “recall, recall” as the board voted 3-2 to expand the membership on two existing curriculum review committees to include students, parents and administrators. The two women on the board who oppose the conservative majority held their heads in their hands after losing a bid to delay the vote so they could have more time to study the plan.
“What’s the rush?” board member Lesley Dahlkemper asked. Her repeated challenges to board president Ken Witt that drew applause from the crowd.
It’s not immediately clear whether the expanded committees will review the history course. Witt said he expected that committees would be asked to review the AP history course.
Board member Julie Williams refused a call to withdraw her original proposal which angered students and teachers by proposing that the course be reviewed with an eye toward promoting patriotism and citizenship and downplaying civil disorder, saying she wanted to keep all options open.
The latest move won’t satisfy the students and others who packed the hearing room and also watched the meeting on a big screen outside in the parking lot with popcorn. The students turned in two cardboard boxes of a Moveon.org petition they said was signed by over 40,000 people across the country.
Many people spoke out against members of the board’s new conservative majority calling students who have walked out of class to protest “pawns.”
“This is America. Stop calling us names when we exercise our rights,” said Lisa Cooke, a mother of two students.
Another parent, Robert Gleason, after pointing at the Colorado flag in the front of the room, told the board he didn’t want the school district to follow in the path of Texas, where the state school board has told teachers to stick to state history standards, not the new course framework that some view as anti-American.
One man donated a copy of George Orwell’s “1984” to the board. One of the outnumbered supporters of the conservative members held up a copy of the state constitution, pointing out that it gives local school boards the power to make decisions about curriculum.
Witt, Williams and John Newkirk listened calmly at the mounting criticism.
At issue is a new approach to AP History this year that focuses more on examining historical documents and discussing the nation’s history, rather than memorizing facts. The course also gives more attention to the period before the arrival of Christopher Columbus as well as slavery and women’s roles. Some conservatives say the course was influenced by a movement in academia to de-emphasize the United States’ uniqueness and treat it as one nation among many.
Students across a majority of the 17 high schools in Colorado’s second-largest school district have left classes in droves over the past few weeks.
The protests began more than a week ago, after the Jefferson County School Board first proposed the U.S. history review. Teachers, who are also upset about a new merit pay plan, staged a sickout that closed two schools and then students began walking out of class in protests.
Before the meeting, both supporters and critics of the board demonstrated outside.
Carole Morenz, holding a small American flag and a sign that said “History matters. Know the truth,” traveled from Pueblo because she said she’s worried the change in approach to teaching history could be the “biggest cultural shift of our lifetime.”
“They will lose the knowledge of what made America great,” said Morenz, adding that she has been concerned about problems in education since she began homeschooling her children in the 1980s.
Sarina Phu, 17, one of several students who spoke to about 300 opponents of the school board from the back of a pickup truck in the building’s parking lot, said some of the nation’s greatest achievements, including civil rights and equality for women, were achieved through protests and social unrest.
Phu, the daughter of Vietnamese immigrants, praised the U.S. for being a nation where people from all backgrounds can thrive, but she said students need to learn about the negative sides of its story, including the mistreatment of Native Americans and the internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II.
“Would you like to sweep us under the rug, too, just like our histories?” she asked.