There are many things to say about the educational debacle that has unfolded in Jefferson County, Colorado over the past couple of weeks — and I hope to touch on at least a couple more — but I want to start with an observation that has stuck with me from the beginning.
I won’t rehash all the details that have led to this point, because there has been some excellent reporting already — particularly from the Denver Post — and there’s very little I can add in the way of that. The short of it, though, is that a conservative bloc on this Colorado school board has been considering a proposal that would establish a new curriculum review committee (in addition to the the two that already exist within the district), with its first assignment being a closer look at the new AP US History Framework. This framework has been bugging conservatives since its release (for largely invalid reasons), and this effort by the JeffCo school board is very much a part of the backlash. The original proposal — and, in particular, some of the jingoistic language it employed — fired up the student body and resulted in days of walk-outs and protests. The proposal was initially tabled, some minor revisions made, and it was placed back on the agenda for the board’s October 2 meeting.
Naturally, given the groundswell of student and parent protest, the meeting attracted a sizable crowd and included over two hours of public comment (most in opposition). The superintendent submitted a compromise proposal, which the minority members agreed was a good first step but requested more time to study it. The majority then approved the compromise with a 3-2 vote.
Which, I have to say, was pretty infuriating to watch (the school board, laudably, livestreams its meetings). The overwhelmingly negative response to the board’s proposal should have been a giant red flag — a signal to the board that they should slow down and take the community’s concerns into consideration. Of course, the board president, Ken Witt, had already indicated his lack of interest in the student and teacher response by publicly calling the student protesters “pawns” of the teacher’s unions.
So the student-teacher effort clearly wasn’t going to suffice. As reported in the Denver Post:
Michele Patterson, head of the Jefferson County PTA… “If the teachers and students don’t move you, do 13,000 angry parents get your attention?” she asked.
The answer, of course, is no. We know that because the board majority forged ahead in spite of the overwhelming opposition demonstrated at the meeting. And that is all the evidence needed to prove that these three individuals are more interested in serving their political agenda than in serving their community.
Which brings me to the first observation I made on this whole issue: if so many people are opposed to the actions of these three board members, who are the people who actually voted to put them there in the first place? All three members of the conservative majority were elected by exceptional margins — in fact, Julie Williams, the author of the original proposal, won with 61% of the vote!
But here’s the catch: that election saw just a 33% turnout.
I have to say — as much as I support the parents and community members who have contributed to this protest, I’d be interested to know how many of them bothered to vote in the board election last November. Where was this opposition then?
This is a hard lesson that, frankly, I can’t believe we’re still having to learn. But I hope it sinks in before November 4…
Democracy means showing up.