CCSD parents question potential social studies curriculum changes

At the end of the regular meeting of the Cherry Creek School District Board of Education on May 10, several parents from a full house of spectators at the in-person and virtual meeting rose to address the board about a message sent to CCSD parents on April 23 from outgoing Superintendent Dr. Scott Siegfried. That message included, “As part of our Future Forward strategic plan, we are working collaboratively with teachers and administrators to review existing curricular resources through a lens of racial and cultural relevance…It is critical that we identify resources that accurately reflect the contributions and narratives of our diverse community.” It also said, “Teams of educators will be reviewing instructional materials over the summer and identifying any components that do not meet our standards of racial and cultural appropriateness.”

Siegfried’s message also pointed to a law, HB19-1192, passed by the Colorado legislature two years ago, titled, “Inclusion of American Minorities in Teaching Civil Government.” It established a “History, Culture, Social Contribution, and Civil Government in Education Commission… to make recommendations to the state board of education when the state board performs its scheduled six-year review of education standards so that those standards and programs accurately reflect the history, culture, social contributions, and civil government of the United States and Colorado, including the contributions and influence of American Indians, Latinos, African Americans, and Asian Americans; lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender individuals within these minority groups; the intersectionality of significant social and cultural features within these communities; and the contributions and persecution of religious minorities.”  

The 1192 Commission, as that commission has been called, has 17 members (individual members’ names can be found on
instruction/1192commission), two each from the African American, Latino, American Indian, and Asian American communities and one member from the LGBTQ community. The remaining members are educators. The commission has met 13 times between December 12, 2019 and May 20, 2021, mostly virtually, but has not yet issued a report of its findings or recommendations. Nevertheless, Siegfried’s message of April 23 says that CCSD “anticipates the Colorado Department of Education will revise social studies content standards in a year” based on the commission’s expected recommendations.

The first person to address the school board, who identified herself as Jessie Abeyta, raised the question of how HB19-1192 “will be implemented into the schools.” She asked “whether the current curriculum already includes the teaching of different cultures and different races and religions?” adding that, “If we are trying to add more of what is already there and already available to our students….my question, for history specifically, is, what would be taken out?” Noting that there is a limited amount of time “in the school…day…to teach history and civics and whatever is going to be included in the social studies curriculum, I just have a concern that it would be top-heavy with this new, progressive idea;…I think we can become overzealous and it takes up all the curriculum and we don’t learn, maybe some necessary things that are also part of our history…I also don’t like how…we are trying to divide all of our kids up into little boxes and little groups, like we have the Asians and we have the African-Americans and we have our white students and we have our bisexual students, and that’s fine, that’s what they are, but when we separate them all into little boxes and little groups, that’s not inclusive, that’s divisive…Then what do we do once we get them into these groups? We pit them against each other, and it’s a contest among our kids…who, which box, which group, has been the most oppressed. And the most oppressed is the winner. So we’re all going to have a contest who’s the most oppressed and who can get the most benefit from that.” That drew applause from the room.

After sharing that she was Caucasian and her husband is a physician of Taiwanese descent who graduated from Cherry Creek High School, a CCSD parent, Mary Lang, said, “You can imagine our shock when one of our children came home from elementary school telling us that white people are evil. We have continued to hear for the past two years that white people are racist and oppressors and people with black and brown skin are oppressed.” Explaining that one of her daughters has skin color like hers and one has skin color like her husband’s, she said, “You can imagine their confusion, trying to understand that (one of their parents) is a victim of oppression and the other is an oppressor… Are you trying to tell them that their Taiwanese father is oppressed and their white mother is racist? Who in this room has the right to define the identity of my child or your child based on skin color? We want schools where our kids are given a chance to show their individuality and to be heard and seen without prejudice by their peers and teachers? Does dividing the students in our schools into groups based on their skin color foster relationships between all races, encourage unity and peace and effectively curb racism?…Rather than…labeling our kids as oppressed or racist oppressors, we would like an environment where you teach principles such as working hard, learning from your mistakes, taking personal responsibility for your actions…If CCSD continues to promote a space that we deem is not safe for our biracial family, we will be looking at other schools that provide a more inclusive and encouraging environment…”

Whitney Vancil, a mom of boys at Homestead Elementary, said that she was speaking for herself and other parents who were in the room, as well as some who were unable to attend the meeting. Referring to the April 23rd email from Siegfried, she explained, “Last month, we received an email from the superintendent stating that the curriculum would be changing. It is a shock… to realize the importance and potential impact of this decision…that the curriculum should include the ideas and mythology of critical race theory. While on the surface, this perspective seems positive, the result is the opposite of healing and will ultimately bring further division. The answer to the current injustices in our nation is oversimplified when labeling oppressors and oppressed persons by various categories…What we ought to be teaching our children is that each and every person…has dignity, deserving of honor and respect…and that everyone should be held accountable for their actions. Even in an ideal world, equal opportunity does not result in identical outcomes. I implore you to consider curriculums (sic) that acknowledge both the failures and the strengths of our history…We should be encouraging our children to think for themselves without the political influence of the school…At all costs, avoid adding critical race theory to our curriculum.”

Brianna Weldon, who has had children in CCSD since 2010, came to the meeting to acknowledge the excellent school services her children have received. However, she expressed concerns that, “This past year, my older children have reported scant information about the founding principles of this great nation. Our schools are teaching that America…is a nation of systemic oppression and inequalities, causing students to feel ashamed and resentful of being American…I’ve noticed an urgency to reform and morph  curriculum surrounding recent social and political movements…regarding critical race theory…and the Colorado bill HB19-1192…This should not be a political issue…I would like to see the district restore balance of thought and input, including different and sometimes unpopular views…If critical race theory is taught…will parents have the option to opt their children out of it?”

In reviewing the complete text of HB19-1192 as well as the materials sent out by Superintendent Siegfried on April 23, The Villager noted that the term “critical race theory” is not used and does not appear anywhere in either document.

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