To: Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education, Colorado State Board of Education, Jefferson County PTA
Subject : Support for Jeffco Student Protests
As a parent, taxpayer, and citizen, I want to raise several concerns and objections with regard to last Thursday’s Jeffco Public Schools Board of Education meeting and the overall tenor of discourse with the Jeffco Board of Education:
Over the course of the last 9 months, I have watched repeatedly as the majority members of the Jeffco School Board have established a culture of disdain to the community it claims to represent, as well to its key asset, the teachers. There are numerous incidents of the lack of transparency and questionable use of taxpayer dollars to pay for a board-appointed attorney, especially when the School District retains attorneys already. We’ve watched as this board has disregarded the opinions of over 13,000 Jefferson County residents, myself included, who submitted our priorities for funding for this current fiscal year. Instead, the board chose to ignore our priorities to fund financially at-risk charter schools. This is incredibly inappropriate use of our tax dollars, and blatant snubbing of what we, the parents, residents, taxpayers, and business members want from our public schools.
We watched the board majority select a Superintendent whose credentials were dubious, from a process where only one candidate was offered, with weak explanations about the process and how, again, our tax dollars were spent for a talent recruitment firm. As we wish the best for Mr. McMinimee, we are still extremely concerned that while his base salary was reduced, due to limitations in his credentials compared to other superintendents in districts of comparable size, there is a substantial sum of tax dollars on the table in the form of bonuses. To date, I’ve yet to see documented set of measurable objectives that Mr. McMinimee must achieve to receive that bonus. Are we to assume, like teachers, his evaluation should be held to the same standard? How can the community provide feedback into these objectives, since by virtue of his direct reporting to the board, he also is answerable to the community?
If that is not concerning enough, we have seen the level of disrespect for teachers’ concerns and issues specifically over teacher compensation and evaluations. As the issue was remanded to Fact Finding, at the expense of taxpayers, we learned that the district had told teachers that they would be held harmless – that the results were in effect, a dry run to iron out the wrinkles in the system. Board members chose not to honor that agreement. Instead, the board majority decided that the evaluation results would be counted. The board indiscriminately moved the goal posts on thousands of teachers as a result. Finally, when the fact finder reported that the evaluation system was unreliable, and recommended that all teachers rated partially-effective and above receive a salary increase this year, the board ignored the fact finder’s recommendations and chose to implement their own salary scheme anyway. Imagine if anyone in any other field were told they would receive a salary increase, only to find out that they were being evaluated differently than they originally expected, and that no increase was forthcoming. Many would certainly be actively looking for new employment. This isn’t good for private business, and it’s certainly not good public policy. Quite simply, all employees want their value to be recognized. Remuneration is only one component. Ask any Human Resource expert and they will emphasize that employee retention is strongly tied to how an organization values their input and the level of collaboration between the management and its employees. Putting it bluntly, the management (the board) is dysfunctional and it is hurting its most vital assets: the teachers and students. That impacts me, a parent of three students in the district.
The tenor of discourse has been divisive, one-side and has opened wounds throughout our community. Some of these could last quite a long time, if not permanently. Adding salt to these wounds, the board stepped far over the line when they discussed a resolution this past Thursday with regard to a Community Curriculum Review Committee. The roles and responsibilities defined by documents provided by board members are haunting in their reach and deeply alarming in the potential impact to students:
“The charge to the committee is to review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions, conformity to Jefferson County academic standards, and to inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed objectionable. … The committee shall report all
comments (majority and minority) to the Board in writing as items are reviewed. Board members may move for public discussion and/or action when matters so warrant. The committee’s initial project will be a review of the AP U.S. History curriculum”.
The initial resolution went even further in scope:
“The committee’s initial projects will be a review of the AP US History curriculum and elementary health curriculum.
Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage. Content pertaining to political and social movements in
history should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions. “
This type of language has chilling parallels in history and fiction:
“Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought?… Has it ever occurred to your, Winston, that by the year 2050, at the very latest, not a single human being will be alive who could understand such a conversation as we are having now?…The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact, there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking—not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.” – George Orwell, “1984”
Is fiction becoming real? We’ve heard board members in interviews with the media say,
“I don’t think we should encourage our kids to be little rebels. We should encourage kids to be good citizens.”
Looking at the practical aspects, the district already employs curriculum review committees consisting of subject experts and parents alike. It is not clear to me how this committee would be any different, except when supporters of specific viewpoints provide startling motives:
This is a door that many of us have been praying for. See [Redacted]’s note below. If you know anyone who is conservative and/or a Christian who can serve on this committee to be a watchmen for history curriculum please pass this along to them. We must have more conservative members on this committee than progressives or liberals. Please help [Redacted] fill committee with godly people”
As an educated member of our society, I am terrified by the implications of such remarks. I worry that small contingent of like-minded persons can both control and impose their values through our children’s curriculum who come from a diverse range of backgrounds, traditions and circumstances. This isn’t the first time this kind of tactic has been taken in history, and the results are always devastating.
I learned that dozens of Standley Lake High School student, who, prior to many teachers calling in sick, had planned to protest the decisions of the board with respect to this Curriculum Review committee, but also to show support for their teachers who have been show little to no support from this board. I applaud them in how they have chosen to exercise their rights to defend their education. Our complete American history has a long tradition of civil disobedience. From our Founding Fathers dumping tea into Boston Harbor to the Freedom Riders and Civil Rights marches to Occupy Wall Street in the current day, our democracy and freedoms are predicated on the idea that we, the people, have the right and the obligation to fight for our place in democracy. These students have embraced this by understanding that censorship in any form is a violation of the fundamental principles of our democracy. However, when members of the district are quoted as saying, “If students want to take that action, that’s appropriate and I respect that right. But, if they are being driven to that by someone else, by adults, then I think that’s a problem.” This concerns me. I am a parent of three children in this district. I will advocate for their rights to an education that isn’t tainted or restricted by particular political or religious perspectives. I want my children to experience and learn a broad range of perspectives, views and opinions, so that they can make up their own minds.
Let me make this clear this letter expresses my opinion directly. But know, there are many, many more like me, and we will not allow you to simply take our children’s education and mold it to the view of the board’s majority and a small contingent of like-minded supporters. Our community is diverse in its viewpoints, and they must all be embraced.