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Denver-area students accuse school board of censoring U.S. history

By Kelly Wallace, CNN
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Fri September 26, 2014
  • Hundreds of students staged a walkout of schools in the Denver area
  • At issue is a school board proposal to review the U.S. history curriculum
  • Students say the school board wants to avoid the negative aspects of U.S. history
  • The school board president says the goal is community involvement in curriculum

Editor's note: Kelly Wallace is CNN's digital correspondent and editor-at-large covering family, career and life. She is a mom of two girls. Read her other columns and follow her reports at CNN Parents and on Twitter.

(CNN) -- One poster said "Censoring history = No Education."

Another read "We deserve to know the truth."

The signs were just a few lining the streets as hundreds of students from at least seven Denver-area schools walked out of their classrooms Tuesday and Wednesday to protest a proposal by a member of the Jefferson County School Board, according to CNN affiliates KDVR and KMGH.

The proposal calls for a new panel to review the schools' curricula, but that's not the part that has students and parents outraged.

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It is the call for a review of the Advanced Placement curriculum for U.S. history classes to ensure that teaching materials present positive aspects of U.S. history and its heritage. According to the wording of the proposal, teaching materials should "promote citizenship, patriotism ... (and) respect for authority" and not "encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law."

"I understand that they want to take out our very important history of slavery and dropping the atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki because it portrays the U.S. in a negative light," said Casey McAndrew, a high school senior.

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Ben Murky, a high school junior, said, "The censorship of U.S. history is wrong, and I think it's pretty communist."

The protest followed walkouts by students on Monday and a protest Friday, when at least 50 teachers called in sick, according to KDVR.

"I think it's time we hear from the kids on how it's impacting them, because it is, and it's very scary for them what's happening here," parent Andrea Stevens said.

Jefferson County Superintendent Dan McMinimee tried to stem the outrage by stressing that no changes in the curriculum have been finalized.

"I think some students think this is a done deal when, in fact, it was a discussion by our board based on a resolution that one of our board members brought forward," McMinimee said. "There was a vigorous discussion on Thursday evening. It was tabled. "

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Kelly Wallace says hundreds of Denver-area students are trying to make their voices heard.
Kelly Wallace says hundreds of Denver-area students are trying to make their voices heard.

McMinimee has visited several high schools in the past few days and met with large and small groups of students to answer their questions and listen to "their legitimate concerns," he said in a statement.

"I respect the right of our students to express their opinions in a peaceful manner. However, I do prefer that our students stay in class and in their buildings," McMinimee said.

The school board members have not responded to a request for comment.

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Julie Williams, the board member advocating the history review, issued a statement after the protests, according to KDVR.

"Balance and respect for traditional scholarship is NOT censorship," she said. "Again we believe that exposure to the curriculum itself, not inflammatory rhetoric, will convince most parents that a review committee is a very good idea."

School board President Ken Witt said the goal is to give all of the community more of a say in what's taught in classrooms.

"The idea is to make certain that we are expanding community involvement and community voice in curriculum," Witt said. "That's not censorship. That's the opposite of censorship. This is exactly what these students would want, I hope."

Judging by the hundreds of students who are trying to make their voices heard, it doesn't appear that kind of community voice in curriculum is what they want.

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"They want to take away our curriculum in U.S. history," said Ava Koppschlager, a sophomore."We deserve to know everything that went on."

Meantime, the Twitterverse has been having a field day with the #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory hashtag, poking fun at what some believe is an attempt to whitewash what students are taught about U.S. history.

"The back of the bus is where the air conditioning is, so no one ever really complained," wrote a Twitter user named Alan Franklin.

"The Vietnam war was a great victory for the US and the free North against communists in the South," Jarret Herrmann added, also on Twitter.

What do you think of a plan to review the school's history curriculum?Tell Kelly Wallace on Twitter or CNN Living on Facebook.

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