So many teachers in Standley Lake and Conifer high schools of Jefferson County Public Schools in Denver did not show up for work on Friday that schools had to be closed. Superintendent Dan McMinimee said in a news conference that he was sorry for the inconvenience that the closings had caused, but explained it was a “quick and difficult decision”. According to Kieran Nicholson and Eric Gorski of The Denver Post, McMinimee, the closures were made to protect the safety and security of students.
“I think it’s unfortunate that people made the choice” to take this action, McMinimee said. “While I respect the opportunity for free speech and expression, I think there are other ways we can work through these differences without putting kids in the middle of it.”
The Jefferson County Education Association, which represents the teachers, released a statement explaining that it did not organize a protest.
“This was not organized by JCEA but we certainly understand the frustration teachers and the entire community are experiencing when their elected officials are making decisions in secret, wasting taxpayer dollars, and disrespecting the community’s goals for their students. Last night’s discussion about censoring the AP History curriculum is yet another example of this board majority shortchanging our students,” the brief statement said.
The agenda of the Jefferson County Board of Education’s meeting on Thursday night included the topics of teacher compensations and the possible creation of a school district curriculum review committee. Teachers were already unhappy with the school board’s president Ken Witt because of the district’s teacher evaluation system. An independent review of the system was rejected by the board in late August.
A parent told KUSA-TV that a walkout had already been planned for Friday morning. This walkout was over a proposal by the Jefferson County School district (JeffCo) to form a committee of nine people who would assure that Advanced Placement US History would be taught in the proper way.
The board has expressed a concern that the course is too negative or “un-American“. Conservative JeffCo board member Julie Williams said the board would follow these guidelines: “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.” This language was removed from the proposal on Thursday, and a new proposal will be considered in two weeks.
Teachers had already agreed to have their pay raises based on annual evaluations. The problem began when teachers were made aware of the market-value level which was set. Once a teacher reaches that market value level, the teacher would not be given a raise, but a bonus instead. Also, according to a report by Chuck Hickey, Kent Erdahl and David Mitchell of KDVR-TV, new teachers’ salaries would be increased by around $5,000 a year, but raises would be determined by teacher performance. Teachers rated as ineffective, or who were ineffective in just some areas, would receive only a 1% raise, or, perhaps, no raise.
“Last evening, our board actually passed a salary compensation package that was $18.2 million, and that was up from $11.7 million last year. Within that package our beginning teachers, or any teacher under $38,000, was moved up to $38,000. Teachers in the middle of the range from $38,000 to $81,000, there was differentiated salary increases there,” said McMinimee.
An independent reviewer said the evaluation system was flawed, the school board had a right to determine the curriculum for its district, and that AP history is an elective and if parents have problems with the course they should discuss their concerns with the teacher, or opt out of the course report Anica Padilla and Kim Nguyen of KMGH-TV. However, Many parents are concerned about censorship. Witt disagreed.
“That proposal was just that — it’s a proposal,” said Witt. “The details haven’t been worked out. No vote was taken last night. It’s just an open discussion. Where that lands, I really can’t predict, but at the end of the day I think the intent was that it be an opportunity to get input on the quality of our curriculum. There is certainly no intent that I could read in that proposal for censorship.”