80-plus District Employees Speak Out Against Recent Board Actions
With a heated election on the horizon for the Woodland Park RE-2 School District (WPSD) Board of Education, many district employees are taking a strong stance in opposing the current elected leaders and the superintendent.
This protest movement hit a high point recently with a group of teachers openly defying a “gag order,” and organizing a meeting at the Ute Pass Cultural Center to express their views, an event that commanded considerable airtime on local television stations. As a result, fears have escalated regarding the fate of a large number of educators at the RE-2 District, which has already been rocked by considerable turnover.
At issue are many moves the board has made within the last year that have caused community members and staff to question the elected leadership panel and the decisions of new superintendent Ken Witt.
Finally, some said ‘enough is enough.’ Many teachers and staffers at WPSD held a press conference and sent out a letter to the public detailing their grievances with the current school board and superintendent. The American Birthright Social Studies Standard was high on the list with the district employees, saying that the curriculum does not meet state or NCAA standards for sports.
This same concerns were voiced by three RE-2 Board of Education candidates – Keegan Barkley, Michael Knott and Seth Bryant — who are challenging the current incumbents in the November election, during a forum held at the Ute Pass Cultural Center last week, sponsored by the Woodland Park Chamber of Commerce (see related story).
However, district leaders don’t agree with these claims.
The district has issued a press release, stating that the new social studies curriculum that was implemented in January meets or exceeds all state education standard.
The protesting teachers argue that decisions like putting American Birthright in place hurt the students and the community.
The removal of mental health positions and the new policy preventing staff members from speaking to the press or on social media about the district were also high on the list of grievances. “We feel that in the face of the current administration’s attack on our students’ learning environments, we can no longer stay silent,” the letter stated. “We must utilize our Constitutional rights to speak out against what we feel is incompetent leadership actively harming our students and community.”
The staff’s letter said that students are missing out on the high quality education that previous students in the district had. The letter points out “dangerous decisions” like refusing funding for mental health support and leaving parents and teachers out of the decision-making process.
The staff said that they are concerned about the effects of the new American Birthright Curriculum. “We believe that our job as educators is to prepare our students for the future,” the letter signed by more than 80 district staffers continued. “These state-rejected social studies standards are putting our kids’ futures at risk.”
The letter echoed sentiments of community members on social media who fear that students will choose to leave the district if they can’t get sports scholarships if they graduate from Woodland Park High School. “Many social studies courses that our students took in the past are no longer NCAA accredited due to the change in standards,” the district staff members stated. “This means when our students want to register to be eligible to play college sports, they can no longer count these unaccredited classes towards those requirements.”
This accreditation issue was hammered away at last week’s candidates’ forum at the Ute Pass Cultural Center, with the contenders who are challenging the incumbents, stated that the American Birthright Curriculum could impact those seeking athletic scholarships and even those student pursing college plans.
The district employees also claim that the students’ social and emotional needs are not being met and that mental health support is “woefully inadequate.” After the board chose to not renew a $1.2 million grant, the district lost 15 mental health positions like school counselors.
“Cutting funding for mental health support in our schools when students are facing a variety of challenges and changes both at home and in school was entirely the wrong decision to make,” the employees added. “This cut is both short sighted and dangerous.”
The move made by the staff members comes as a shock to many after the district updated its policy saying that staff members could be reprimanded or terminated due to speaking about school district matters on social media pages or to reporters. Many community members now fear that teachers and others could lose their jobs after speaking out.
District Backs Up New Social Studies Curriculum
After the letter from the district staff circulated, the Woodland Park School District issued a press release stating that the claims about the American Birthright Curriculum were “misleading.” The release reported that the school district meets or exceeds all state academic standards.
The district stated that the courses offered at the high school do not have a risk of losing NCAA accreditation. “All WPSD courses are and will continue to be accredited,” the press release added. “The district notes that adding the American Birthright standards has exposed a number of gaps in the previous civics and social studies content and has both resulted in the creation of a new course, World Geography, as well as the addition of the contributions of a large number of significant historical figures that had been overlooked.”
However, after the press release, which was also sent to parents via e-mail, came out, some community members on social media cited previous letters sent to parents stating that certain courses had not yet received NCAA accreditation. The course descriptions sent out to families also state that some of the American Birthright courses are not accredited by the NCAA.
But, the district stated that the new standards are better than what the district offered in the past. “The addition of the American Birthright standard to supplement the Colorado Academic standards has improved the depth and breadth of WPSD civics and social studies instruction, to the irritation of those teachers’ union affiliates bent on fostering a hatred of America in our youth,” Superintendent Ken Witt explained.