Students protest outside of Ralston Valley High School, Sept. 23, 2014, in Arvada, Colo. The students are protesting a proposal by the Jefferson County School Board to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history.
Photo by Brennan Linsley/AP

Students to rally against controversial curriculum changes

Students in Jefferson County, Colorado have planned a rally before a county school board meeting Thursday to protest a recent proposal that students say would whitewash one of their American history classes. Students from 17 district high schools are set to gather and deliver 40,000 petition signatures to the board.

“We are very frustrated that this class is being reviewed because of political issues. We would really expect our elected officials to act in the best interests of the students, not in the interests of your [political] affiliation,” Bethany Keupp, a 17-year old senior at Standley Lake High School, told msnbc. Keupp founded JeffCo StandUp with friends and plans to speak at Thursday’s protest.

The board is scheduled to discuss a proposal from member Julie Williams to create a curriculum review committee for the district’s Advanced Placement (AP) history course. That committee would “review curricular choices for accuracy and omissions,” and would “inform the Board of materials that may reasonably be deemed to be objectionable.”

Williams’s original proposal, which she introduced in September, would have de-emphasized any lessons that might be seen as condoning “civil disorder, social strife of disregard for the law.” Students have organized walkouts and protests, and schools have closed amid large scale teacher absences.

While the board has removed some of the more controversial language from the proposal it will consider Thursday, Keupp says that the board will still have the power to veto parts of the curriculum that it finds objectionable. “Those points showed the committee’s intentions, and I think those are still there whether the words are in the proposal or not.”

The College Board, the organization that oversees the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum Williams has singled out for review, has supported the students and said Friday that if the school district changes the curriculum, it will not allow the school to offer the course under the “AP” label.

“These students recognize that the social order can — and sometimes must — be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice,” the College Board said in a statement.

And local and national organizations have also lent their support to the students. Eight groups, including the American Civil Liberties Union of Colorado, the National Coalition Against Censorship, and the National Council for the Social Studies, sent a letter Wednesday to the school board asking members to keep their decisions about curriculum based on educational merit and not politics.

“We strongly urge you to adopt policies and procedures that focus, not on molding patriots or citizens in a particular image, but on educating students to be informed, knowledgeable, thoughtful and engaged participants in their communities,” the groups said in the letter.

Williams has said that she is not trying to censor the history curriculum, and in a letter sent on Sept. 22, she said her proposal is based in “balance and respect for traditional scholarship.” The AP history course, she said, “has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American History for generations.”

“My education has always been my No. 1 priority,” said Sabrina Pacha, another student at Standley Lake High School. “I will not stand idly by while the school board makes decisions about my education that allow for the possibility of censorship and the overall destruction of public education.”

Some members of the school board have suggested that the students are protesting because they have been improperly influenced by teachers. Keupp said that attitude is an insult to her and her classmates.

“We have the resources to find out the information, and it’s insulting that they would think that teenagers don’t have an interest in their education,” she told msnbc. “I would love for [them] to see me as an equal and not as some child, as a 17-year-old who is almost ready to vote.”

And voting will be a key component of Jefferson County’s next chapter if the board green lights the review committee. “They’re still going to implement more and more policies that we don’t agree with, because that’s all they’ve been doing since they’ve been in office,” Keupp said. “The end goal whether or not the review committee is passed is to get the board members of out office.”

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Students to rally against controversial curriculum changes