In what has become the newest front-line in America’s on-going Culture War, students in Jefferson County, Colorado, walked out of five different schools in the last week in protest over their school board’s recent heavy-handed actions. Teachers have been angered about a new ‘performance-based’ system for awarding raises to educators, while students are angry about a proposed Curriculum Committee that calls for promoting only ‘positive aspects’ of U.S. history and American heritage while de-emphasizing or avoiding historical material that encourages or condones “civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law.”
In particular, students are horrified by an attempt by the Jefferson County School Board to use the proposed Curriculum Committee to ‘whitewash’ American history, including Colorado history, by expurgating or bowdlerizing certain historical events such as cover-ups of environmental crimes at Rocky Flats, Colorado, and the 1914 Ludlow Massacre of striking coal miners and their families.
In what has become the largest and longest protest of its kind, nearly 1000 students have joined in a fourth day of continuing protests that are being organized via Facebook and other social media.
The protests culminate a long period of mounting tensions in the school district after a majority of three conservative candidates were elected as a slate to the five-member Jefferson County School Board last November. Among other announced changes, including expanded support for charter schools, conservative members stated the board would implement a new ‘pay-for-performance’ compensation model for teachers that more closely adheres to a ‘market-based’ compensation model. That model would pay teachers based on performance evaluations and the market-value of their job, rather than on acquired skills, tenure and seniority.
The former Superintendent of Schools, 12-year veteran Cindy Stevenson, resigned from her post mere days after the Nov. 5 election that saw the conservative sweep, stating that her work was being impeded by the new board. A little more than two weeks ago, on September 9, in a unanimous vote of 180 union and non-union representatives, Jefferson County teachers issued a vote of ‘no-confidence’ in newly-elected School Board President Ken Witt. The no-confidence vote was taken after the board’s conservative majority in late August moved independently to restrict pay raises for 89 teachers deemed ‘partially effective’ or ‘ineffective’ in their jobs after rejecting an independent review that found the district’s teacher evaluation system too flawed to set salaries fairly.
Last Friday, September 19, two Jefferson County schools were forced to close due to more than 50 teachers calling in sick or taking a day of vacation. The following Monday, 100 students at Evergreen High School left their classes abruptly to protest the board’s actions at the school’s administration building, prompting similar protests at other county schools in the following days.