THURSDAY UPDATE: The Jeffco Board of Education is scheduled to meet tonight, and they are expected to use their 3-2 right-wing majority to ram through an initiative to change the curriculum of high school history classes. Community outrage, be damned.
We've written before in this space that the controversy surrounding the Jefferson County School Board would inevitably bleed into key races in 2014; it was only a matter of time that the biggest story in the most important electoral county in the state would break into the election cycle. As Nick Riccardi reports for the Associated Press:
The protests over a Colorado school district’s proposal to promote patriotism and de-emphasize civil disobedience in American history classes have found their way into the state’s marquee election races, injecting a volatile issue two weeks before early voting ballots land in mailboxes across the state…
…At its Sept. 19 meeting, the board proposed creating a committee to review texts and course plans, starting with Advanced Placement history, to make sure materials “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free-market system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights” and don’t “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”
The ensuing walkouts brought criticism from some candidates, including Republican gubernatorial candidate Bob Beauprez, a former congressman who represented Jefferson County. He said the board is within its rights to consider the adjustments.
“They have every right to discuss curriculum,” Beauprez said. “What this is really about is the continuing tiff between the teachers union and the elected majority.” [Pols emphasis]
His opponent, Democratic Gov. John Hickenlooper, criticized the proposed curriculum changes.
We were a bit surprised, frankly, that this question didn't come in last night's Gubernatorial debate, though Bob Beauprez had already stepped in the mess on Friday. Yesterday The Colorado Independent followed up on Beauprez's school board comments from Friday; unsurprisingly, Jeffco parents are not pleased:
“What we’ve got going on in JeffCo right now is a bit of a complicated situation,” Beauprez said in a forum at Metro State college on Friday.
“I think the school board, an elected school board, they have a proxy from the citizens of Jefferson County to review that curriculum and to opine about that curriculum,” he continued. “And the remedy — if the citizens, the voters, decide that the school board has made a mistake — the remedy comes pretty quickly, in the next election. That’s the way I think it should work.”
The comment hit a nerve for Shawna Fritzler. She’s a registered Republican with a nine-year-old daughter who attends a JeffCo public school. She’s also the president of her school’s Parent Teacher Association and a citizen-chair of the JeffCo public school’s planning and advisory council. She said she is frustrated to see a top-of-the-ticket politician weigh in during an election year without enough context.
“Bob Beauprez says to take it to the ballot box,” she said. “You want me to wait three more years of my nine-year old’s education? My daughter has to wait for an election? That’s asinine.” [Pols emphasis]
The Jeffco School Board controversy is unlikely to be resolved any time soon, which means it should continue to generate questions for a number of candidates — particularly those who are trying hard not to provide an answer. Again, from the Associated Press:
The students’ passion brought the praise of Democratic Sen. Mark Udall, who called them inspiring, and said he hoped the school board would listen.
Rep. Cory Gardner, the Republican challenging Udall, wouldn’t weigh in, saying it was up to Jefferson County and that the federal government shouldn’t get involved. [Pols emphasis]
This is a pretty stupid answer from Gardner, who could have addressed the situation in a manner that didn't involve a shrug and a generic "not my problem" response. Gardner missed an opportunity to empathize with voters in a county he cannot lose if he hopes to defeat Sen. Mark Udall in November, and by declining to address something that other statewide candidates are not ignoring, Gardner left the door open for someone to ask the same question again. October is crammed full of candidate debates and forums, and plenty of reporters will want to be the first to get Gardner on the record here.