April V. Taylor
Hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms in suburban Denver last week. The walkout was to protest a new curriculum that whitewashes American history in order to promote patriotism and downplay civil disobedience. The walkout involved six high schools in Jefferson County, which is the state’s second-largest school district. The walkout came on the heels of a sick-out by teachers that shut down two of the district’s high schools.
Students report that they organized the action through social media and word of mouth. Ashlyn Maher, a senior at Chatfield High School, helped organize the protest. Maher stated to the Denver Post, “It was kind of just spur of the moment. I heard one teacher was so moved by people leaving that she started to cry.”
The proposal at the center of the controversy was proposed by Julie Williams who is a member of the school board and part of the board’s conservative majority. The board is made up of five people, three of whom are conservative and who were elected and took office in November. The proposal specifically called for schools to use, “instructional materials that present positive aspects of the nation and its heritage.” It also established a committee that would regularly review texts and course plans to ensure that they, “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights, and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
There are ties to prominent conservatives funding the proposal, including the Koch brothers group Americans for Prosperity. The students were not disciplined beyond receiving an unexcused absence. Public school superintendent Dan McMinimee has held meetings with some of the students and plans to continue having discussions. He states, “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.” Students all over the country, including in Pennsylvania, South Carolina and Texas, have been pushing back against conservative and discriminatory education policies.