Protests at Colorado high schools continued yesterday as two more Jefferson County (JeffCo) schools were closed due to a teacher “sickout.” Jefferson and Golden High schools cancelled classes and closed the schools after the majority of their teachers called in sick either late Sunday night or early Monday morning, too late to allow the school district to secure substitute staff. The incident marks the third week of conflict between the JeffCo Board of Education and its teachers.
One of the issues involved in the dispute is proposed changes to the Advanced Placement U.S. history (APUSH) curriculum. The changes in the history classes that are under review by the five-member school board would discourage civil disobedience and promote the free enterprise system, citizenship, patriotism and respect for authority, as well as the “positive aspects of the United States and its heritage,” according to board member Julie Williams. Students promptly responded to the announcement by staging a walkout and demonstrating civil disobedience. Students supported their teachers yesterday by showing up and picketing to protest the proposed changes.
The College Board’s Advanced Placement program made a statement saying if “essential concepts” of its courses are censored by a school or district they can no longer use the advanced placement designation.
Ken Witt, school board president, accused the teachers’ union of encouraging the students to walk out of class, calling it “manipulation.” He said the history curriculum changes are not yet final. The teacher’s union issued a statement yesterday that it had not organized the sickout, but that they understand the frustration of the teachers and the community with board decisions.
The second issue prompting the school closures in Colorado’s second largest school district, home to 84,000 students, is a proposed change to the teacher compensation model, which would be a merit-based package. Tammy Peters, an English teacher at Golden High School and the teachers’ spokeswoman, told the Denver Post that JeffCo teachers feel they are not being treated fairly by the school board.
However, Sheila Atwell, JeffCo Students First director, said she wondered why teachers would feel they are being treated unfairly, when “all but 66” of them received a raise after the board approved a 4.2 percent increase for those teachers rated “highly effective,” and 2.4 percent for those rated “effective.” She said that new teacher salaries will also be increased by 1.3 percent to 13 percent as the minimum pay is raised to $38,000 per year. Atwell said that the district will also be paying the retirement cost increases for all its employees.
The protests and sick-outs began on Friday, Sept. 19, at Standley Lake and Conifer High Schools. Students at multiple other JeffCo Colorado high schools followed with protests and walkouts last week. Student protests were mainly focused on the proposed APUSH curriculum changes.
JeffCo Colorado school superintendent Dan McMinimee threatened disciplinary action against the teachers who participated in Monday’s sickout, and said they would be requiring the teachers who called in sick to show proof of illness. He said that they would be having the building principals work with each teacher involved in the protest. Those who called in to use personal days, which require 24 hours’ notice, may have a day’s pay docked. The teachers absent on Sept. 19 will not be disciplined, as officials had thought those absences marked a one-time event.
By Beth A. Balen