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JeffCo Schools Battle Heats Up Over Curriculum, Teacher Pay

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) - Two high schools in Jefferson County closed on Friday after teachers called in sick in an apparent protest of two school board actions.

One issue centered on teacher pay and evaluations, something teachers have been battling the school board on for some time. The second -- proposed changes to classroom curriculum -- sparked student protests at some high schools.

Standley Lake and Conifer high schools closed for the day because too many teachers didn't show up. The district said it anticipated they would reopen next week.

Tensions have been high in the district since the election of a conservative majority to the five-person board and the departure of long-time superintendent Cindy Stevenson, who was popular with teachers and parents.

New district superintendent Dan McMinimee said officials are not ruling out discipline against teachers who called in sick.

"I think the first step is find out what happened first before you start throwing threats of legal action out there," he said.

The teachers union said it wasn't involved in the protest or the so-called "sick-out."

Students Protest
Students protest outside Standley Lake High School against the curriculum review. (credit: CBS)

Students and parents rallied in protest of teachers at Standley Lake throughout the day.

"Seeing these kids, making these signs, standing out in the hot sun. This is the civics lesson. This is what America is," one woman at the protest said.

Dozens of students waved signs with warnings against censorship and support for teachers.

"We are just standing up for our education. We are very proud they are doing the same," one student said.

Parents watched the rallies, too.

"I'm really concerned about the kinds of decisions the school board is making. I'm concerned they're not listening to the community. There is an obvious, really strong dissension against the kinds of decisions they're making," parent Daniella Varda said at Standley Lake High School.

One proposal could change how Advanced Placement U.S. History and elementary health are taught in schools. In a one-page document posted to the school board's website, board member Julie Williams said the district would appoint a nine-member committee that would "review curricular choices for conformity to JeffCo academic standards." That committee would regularly review, the proposal said, texts taught in those two subjects.

Williams' proposal said teachers should present "the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact."

Additionally, the proposal would ensure that classrooms taught citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights.

Materials shouldn't condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law, the proposal said.

Some students protesting Friday carried signs that called the proposal censorship.

"We need to learn how to think critically and analytically. And we can't do that if we're censoring," a student at Standley Lake High School said.

McMinimee, whom the board hired in May, said parents and students should decide whether to take the high school history course.

"In my own feelings, being a former high school principal, AP U.S. History is an elective course, and I believe in parents' choice. So if a parent feels that they want their student in that class, or a student wants to be in that class, then I support that," he said.

The JeffCo PTA board of directors voted unanimously on Wednesday to oppose Williams' proposal.

"If the board moves forward with this committee, they will be wading into dangerous territory. Censorship is not an issue parents or our JeffCo community will take lightly," PTA President Michele Patterson said in a statement.

McMinimee said he expects teachers and students back in class on Monday.

"I think we all want the same thing. We want a quality learning opportunity for students in the classroom," McMinimee said.

Here are images of some of the signs students held at their rally:

signs (2)
(credit: CBS)
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