Dozens of students walked out of classes in Jefferson County, Colorado high schools Tuesday, but likely not for the reason they were apparently led to believe.
According to the Associated Press, students were protesting “a conservative-led school board proposal to focus history education on topics that promote citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority, providing a show of civil disobedience that the new standards would aim to downplay.”
In addition, a report by local NBC 9News said, “The students are upset about a proposal to review the way Advanced Placement U.S. history is taught in high school. One part of the proposal says, ‘Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.'”
Ken Witt, Jefferson County Board of Education president, however, told Breitbart News the real issue is a salary dispute with the teachers’ union, a situation that began during last year’s annual union negotiations. Now, he said, the teachers’ union is using students as “political pawns.”
John Ford, president of the Jefferson County Education Association, told 9News that he thinks it’s “awesome that students understand and recognize their First Amendment rights and they’re taking action.”
“Trying to create a board that in some ways purifies our curriculum is a little bit concerning and somewhat chilling,” Ford said.
Witt, however, said the proposal made by board member Julie Williams suggested a review of the APUSH curriculum by a board committee, with no authority given to make choices or modifications to the curriculum.
“The proposal was discussed and modifications were made to the proposal, including a decision to strike any specific mention of APUSH,” Witt said. “But no action was ever taken on the proposal. The real issue is the union salary negotiations.”
“For the first time, JeffCo decided on open negotiations, meaning that the public could attend the negotiations,” Witt explained. “In the past, both the board of education and the unions have always agreed on closed negotiations.”
Witt said that after several meetings early in the process, the union decided to walk out and declare an impasse.
“This was clearly arranged ahead of time because when they walked out they went to a prepared press area with microphones set up,” he said.
Witt said the next phase of the process was mediation, which was closed.
“During this phase, the board said performance of teachers has to matter in getting raises,” he continued. “The board did not want to give raises to teachers who were rated as ‘less than effective.’ And less than 3 percent of teachers are rated ‘less than effective.'”
The union, however, disagreed, demanding that raises be given even to teachers who were rated as “less than effective,” Witt said.
In the third phase, Witt continued, a non-binding review by a fact-finder recommended that the board accept the union version of the agreement, reasoning that the evaluation system is not perfect and teacher raises should not be based on their performance.
“The board rejected that recommendation,” said Witt, “decided instead to give a 2.4% raise to teachers rated as ‘effective,’ and a 4.2% raise to those teachers rated as ‘highly effective.'”
“This created conflict with the union,” Witt added. “On Friday, teachers walked out of school on a ‘strike,’ though they called it a ‘sick-out,’ which forced closure of two of our schools.”
“It concerns me that teachers are striking after most of them were given raises,” Witt said. “On Monday, the union took a different tack and said students were outraged over censorship of the curriculum.”
“If you talk to the students, who are outside holding up signs, missing classroom time, some of them don’t even know why they’re protesting,” Witt said. “Some students said they learned the board had cut $40 million from the budget, and others said the board had decided to cut discussions about slavery in the classroom.”
“The students are badly misinformed,” he asserted.
Sheila Atwell, executive director of JeffCo Students First, wrote on a blog post Friday:
So many teachers called in sick today at two Jeffco high schools that the schools had to be closed. Staging what has traditionally been called the blue flu, the Jeffco teachers union encouraged teachers to stay home depriving students of a day of learning. Rumors are more schools may join the sick out next week…How said that some teachers, egged on by the union activists are putting our students in the middle of their dispute with the school board.
What are the reasons cited for the “sick out”? Some are saying it is a protest of the school board conversation to sit a curriculum and textbook committee whose first charge would be to review the changes made to the AP History curriculum and test. Again, this was only a discussion about a curriculum committee, they did not even vote on it! While JCSF supports increasing transparency around curriculum and textbook selection and supports increasing community involvement, the make-up of the committee must reflect Jeffco as must the standards and the outline.
We wonder why all the fuss? Previous school boards have had such committees; why would it be bad to have more community members know what is being taught? In fact, creating a curriculum committee actually increases transparency around these selections (a far cry from “censorship”)…
Atwell further went on to say that, with the new teacher pay schedule, “all but 66 teachers” received a raise.
“In addition, new teacher salaries will be increased to a minimum of $38,000 a year, meaning a raise of between 1.3% and 13% for many,” she writes. “All of this is in addition to the district picking up the retirement cost increases for all employees.”
“It has been said, ‘a lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on,'” Atwell wrote in a blog Tuesday, “and that quote pretty much sums up the controversy surrounding the Jeffco board seating a curriculum review committee whose first project would be to look at the new framework for AP US History.”
As Joshua Sharf of Watchdog Wire told Breitbart News, the JeffCo Education Association is threatened because the Douglas County Board of Education decided not to negotiate a teachers’ union contract for their schools; instead, that board now makes individual contracts with teachers.
“During the last elections for JeffCo Board of Education, the reform members won all the open seats, and they support non-union teachers as well,” Sharf explained. “The old superintendent resigned, and a new, more reform-minded superintendent is in place now.”
Sharf added that Williams, a reform member of the board, proposed the review of the APUSH curriculum.
“It turned into a complaint by the union that the board was recommending censorship and wanting teachers to censor the curriculum,” he said.