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Colorado's Woodland Park a focal point in cultural skirmish over American Birthright after school board adopts controversial standards

Divisive school board race expected in Colorado amidst debate over American Birthright
Divisive school board race expected in Colorado amidst debate over American Birthright 01:54

A school board election in Woodland Park in southern Colorado next month is taking on new significance and attracting national attention. That's after the current superintendent and board began implementing big changes.

A set of standards rejected by the Colorado State Board of Education called "American Birthright" is now being used at the small Teller County district.

The standards focus on American patriotism and in some cases Christian values. Critics say the standards eliminate critical thinking and omit important parts of history like racism.


Parents and teachers say the changes are causing many to leave.

Now a focal point in the country's latest culture skirmish, Woodland Park earlier this year becoming the first district in the country to adopt a curriculum called American Birthright.

Woodland Park expecting divisive school board race amidst standards debate 02:13

David Randall is executive director of the Civics Alliance which created American Birthright. He said, "I am delighted that Woodland Park is the first school district in the country to adopt it."

Megan Blake, a Woodland Park parent who has four children in the district said, "Why do we need to be the guinea pigs for one standard that I don't think most of Teller county agrees with anyways." 

Civics Alliance

The standards' chief authors say American Birthright is trying to increase the rigor in what kids are taught.

But its critics say the new standards are an attempt to impose what it means to be an American, lack rigor and will make it harder for students to complete coursework that will be recognized for college acceptance.

"I have more concerns as an English teacher especially about censorship or pushing an agenda," said English teacher Anna Hand, who has taught in the district for 15 years. "I've watched colleagues at the high school be told they can't use a book, I've been told I can't purchase books. And partially it'll be told directly or it's just that culture of fear so we second guess everything we try to bring in right now."

Educators say the changes brought in by Woodland Park's conservative school board is causing career teachers and families to leave.

Yet American Birthright standards is being considered for adoption in the state of Ohio.

And the Civics Alliance's Randall says much of the fear is misguided.

Civics Alliance

"This is nonsense. It is a partisan attack by people who have not read our standards. Our standards provide a full account of American history."

The Woodland Park school board is also scaling back mental health services for students. It chose not to renew $1.2 million in grant funding which educators say was used to staff a dozen positions focused on student behavioral health. 

Nancy Godwin, a special education teacher who has five children go through Woodland Park schools, said, "I left a teaching position I loved because I could not stand by and watch Ken Witt and the school board ruin Woodland Park's school district.  The current school board's callous decisions have negatively impacted the learning outcomes of students receiving special education services."

Debbie Metcalf, also a parent who served as a school secretary said, "Schools are a service industry and we are no longer servicing our students adequately.  This board wants kids to fit into perfect little molds and to not think for themselves, ignoring and insulting and underservicing any student that doesn't fit the mold."

Woodland Park's Superintendent Ken Witt told KKTV, our CBS partner in Colorado Springs: 

"We declined some money earmarked for mental health services, which are often utilized for gender confusion and sexual identity matters instead of the sort of counseling and character development that our schools ought to pursue. We are returning to pre-COVID norms, focusing on teaching academics rather than loading the system with so many social workers and mental health practitioners that little time is left for learning. We have a counselor in every school and teachers who are trusted adults and watchful for students needing additional support. We also forged a new partnership with Mindsight this year to ensure we have all mental health support needed."

On the adoption of the Birthright curriculum Witt said, "Yes, this district adopted a traditional framework for civics and social studies - because we had to realign from courses such as 'civil disobedience' and statements by the teachers union in Colorado that they disavow Capitalism, the free market which makes this nation the envy of the world, while they quip communist tropes. And yes, we still ensure we meet or exceed Colorado state standards."

The Colorado Department of Education reports that Woodland Park's superintendent has committed to "meet or exceed state standards required by law."  The CDE added that in Colorado local boards choose the curriculum for their schools that they deem sufficient to meet learning goals.

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