We have asked school board candidates in several Colorado school districts important questions on public education. Become better informed by finding out where they stand on charter school accountability, religious school vouchers, AP U.S. History curriculum, discrimination and bullying, sex education, confidential health services, collective bargaining agreements, vaccinations, STEM funding, and local control and national education standards.
We have asked school board candidates in Jefferson County, Adams 12 Five Star Schools, Aurora Public Schools, Pueblo District 60, and other Colorado school districts to find where they stand on the issues.
What We Asked
Charter school accountability
Charter schools are an established component of the quality public education choices available to Colorado students. Debate remains around the admission and academic standards for charter schools compared to neighborhood schools, and the role of school boards in ensuring that charter schools in their districts are both meeting standards set for other public schools as well as fairly providing opportunity to all students.
Do school boards have a duty to close low performing charter schools even if they have a separate governance structure, and should charter schools be subject to the same admission and academic standards as a “traditional” neighborhood school?
Protests occurred last year after the majority on the Jefferson County school board proposed a review of AP U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum, seeking to ensure the curriculum promotes “citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority,” and does “not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” The proposal said further that “instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.” The proposal was withdrawn after intense negative publicity, though the College Board later revised the APUSH standards to include more specifics about American history.
Do you believe that school district standards should meet or exceed the Colorado Academic Standards and the curriculum should be free from political ideology?
Religious school vouchers
Douglas County’s controversial tuition voucher program was recently found by the Colorado Supreme Court to be in violation of the state constitution’s prohibition of state support for religious institutions. Douglas County’s voucher program attempted to evade state law against funding religious programs by providing tuition assistance to families instead of “directly” funding the private schools in question. Supporters argue this allows the program to pass legal muster, but the Colorado Supreme Court said it violates state constitutional prohibitions on support for religion using public resources.
Do you support the use of taxpayer funds directly or indirectly paying for private schools, including sectarian religious schools?
LGBT student clubs and discrimination protections
Gay-straight alliances are non-curricular student clubs that create safe and inclusive communities for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) students and their allies. Colorado’s non-discrimination law protects people from discrimination in places of public accommodations, including Colorado schools. Others argue that schools should not take a position on a controversial morality question for which consensus does not exist among parents.
Do you think that student clubs should have access to all the resources provided to other non-curricular student clubs, and that students and adults should be protected from discrimination based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation and/or gender identity?
In 2012, Colorado passed legislation reforming school discipline practices. This legislation was intended to reduce referrals to law enforcement over minor offenses, and ensure that punishment for violations of school policies are appropriate to the infraction. In recent years, hasty referrals of students to law enforcement over minor discipline problems have had an adverse affect on student achievement and success after school. These policies have also been found to disproportionately impact students of color. At the same time, a disciplined classroom environment is important for students to learn and achieve.
Do you support reducing referrals to law enforcement for minor infractions committed by students, especially younger students?
Providing age-appropriate comprehensive sex education is a major public health priority for public schools today. Colorado students need to learn sensitivity to different cultures and sexual orientations as part of comprehensive sex education. In 2013, Colorado passed a law modernizing and standardizing sex education in Colorado public schools. This law was opposed by religious and conservative parent advocacy groups who believe such education is either immoral or best left to parents.
Do you support the teaching of science-based, medically accurate and age- appropriate sexuality education that includes information on, abstinence, contraception, cultural differences, and sexual orientation in public schools?
Healthy Kids Colorado Survey
In 2015, controversy arose at the Colorado Board of Education over an annual anonymous survey distributed to students, the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey, which asks a range of important questions about student’s lifestyle, sexuality, and safety concerns. Supporters say the Healthy Kids Survey allows government and grant-based services to operate more efficiently by allowing targeted intervention for specific issues and communities. The information in the Healthy Kids Colorado survey is confidential and generally valued by public health experts and school administrators, but others say the information compromises confidentiality and parental relationships.
Do you support the distribution of the Healthy Kids Colorado Survey on an opt-out basis, and opt-in basis, or not at all?
Every Colorado student deserves a safe learning environment free from bullying and harassment. Often, the most susceptible to bullying are also the frequently targeted. A recent report found that over 60 percent of children with autism have been bullied, over three times as much as children on on the autism spectrum. LGBT students are also bullied at higher rates than the general population.
Do you support the implementation of anti-bullying and safe school programs that are sensitive to a range of physical and psychological disorders, as well as sexual orientation?
Confidential Health Services
Students should have access to accurate information about human sexuality and to a full range of reproductive health care services. Whenever possible, students should be encouraged to involve their parents in their reproductive decisions. With that said, there should never be restrictions on access to confidential reproductive health care services for students who need them.
Do you support confidentiality for minor students with regard to family planning, sexually transmitted diseases, and prenatal care?
Collective Bargaining Agreements
A small number of local school boards in Colorado have attempted to discontinue or bypass negotiations with their local education associations, and instead offer terms of employment and compensation directly to teachers. Opponents say this has led to a significant increase in turnover in affected schools districts, and also in districts threatened with this breach of longstanding protocol.
Will you commit to good-faith negotiations with your local education association to produce an employment contract acceptable to all stakeholders?
This year in the Colorado legislature, legislation was unsuccessfully proposed to make it even easier for students to opt out of vaccination standards to attend public school. Colorado already has one of the most lenient vaccination policies in the nation, and some believe those standard should be tightened considerably as the state of California recently did in the wake of a major outbreak of measles in that state.
Do you believe that students should be required to be vaccinated against preventable childhood diseases to attend school in Colorado, and should there be an opt-out available for personal non-religious beliefs?
The Colorado Open Meetings Law requires that all meetings between public officials, including school board officials, where official business is discussed must be held in public with appropriate notice.
Will you commit to 100% compliance with the letter and spirit of the Colorado Open Meetings Law, and discuss all official business with fellow board members in public as the law requires?
Local control versus state and national education standards
One of the central debates in American education policy today is how achievement standards should be set, and whether local school boards or oversight at the state and/or federal level should have the final say. Initiatives such as the Common Core State Standards were developed to ensure high school diplomas in the United States meet essential standards for proficiency and economic preparedness. Opponents argue that states and even local school districts are better suited to set academic achievement benchmarks for their students.
Do you support national education standards to ensure consistent and strong proficiency in vital subjects, or should states and local districts set their own?
The importance of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics
Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics, collectively known as STEM education subjects, are broadly considered vital to the economic future of Colorado and the nation as a whole. Other education experts argue that STEM should be a component of a holistic comprehensive curriculum that imparts the broad range of skills needed to succeed in today’s world.
Do you believe that public schools should pursue rigorous STEM education standards at the expense of other curricular programs?