For the third straight day students at some schools in Jefferson County, Colo., have walked out of class in protest of curriculum changes suggested by the new conservative majority on the school board.
The protests have been building steam since late last week, when classes at some high schools had to be canceled because of a “sick-out” staged by numerous teachers.
Since then, students have also brought schools to a halt by leaving class and staging protests on the streets around as many as five Jefferson County high schools.
Some told reporters that their parents approved of the student-led civil disobedience by calling them in sick to school so that they could avoid unexcused absences and, in some cases, by joining their kids in waving signs and chanting slogans.
“We want the Jeffco board to listen and pay attention to the community,” Jack Shefrin, a senior at Arvada West High School, told the Denver Post. “Most people feel their needs are not being met by the board.”
The protests are the latest escalation in tension between the school board and those inside classrooms. Last year, a slate of three conservative board members were elected, changing the majority balance in their favor.
Two weeks ago, all 180 teachers’ representatives in the Jefferson County Education Associationunanimously voted “no confidence” in board president Ken Witt, who leads the conservative coalition on the board.
Part of the reason is the board’s adoption of a new evaluation system for teachers for setting salaries. An independent review board found the system too flawed to work well, but the board adopted it anyway.
Students, however, are also protesting a suggested curriculum change to history courses that would emphasize patriotism, American values and the country’s achievements. Students are afraid the curriculum would gloss over or ignore critical aspects of American government and policies.
The curriculum has even been criticized by the Republican National Committee for overlooking critical aspects of American history, according to the Denver Post.
“If they are going to contain things of our history now, what are our children going to learn?” Pomona High School student Angelo Coronado told the Post.
The curriculum committee has yet to vote to adopt the changes. In a statement, superintendent Dan McMinimee said he respects the rights of students to express their opinions, but encouraged them to return to 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,” he said. “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.”