Next year’s election of the Cody school board should be fun to watch, if the chaos that ensued this year is any indication of what’s ahead.
Even though the election may be ripe for some rousing political theater, voters shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that important issues in local schools will ultimately be decided by who controls the school board.
There are lessons to be learned in the aftermath of Park County District No. 6’s blowup over proposed new textbooks, but it’s not clear yet exactly what all the players took home from the confrontation. It’s a fight that was just suddenly dropped, with the hope it can all be cleared up later.
That’s not a good thing, and not the outcome anyone wanted, though the conservatives who complained about the recommended textbooks being too liberal undoubtedly believe they won at least a temporary victory when the whole plan was shelved last month. They may feel emboldened by their “success,” but they shouldn’t consider themselves winners in any way. They selfishly cost students in Cody the opportunity to upgrade their education during the next school year, and they will try to do it again.
Naturally, they will attempt to elect like-minded conservatives to the school board. It’s up to voters to know how each candidate viewed the textbook debacle and what they plan to do to keep it from happening again.
Let’s recap: a committee met to review textbooks and recommend its choices to the school board, which has the final approval on curriculum under Wyoming’s standard of local control of public education. The process was sailing along in May before conservatives in the audience and on the board hijacked it at a seven-hour meeting that divided much of the community.
A few members of the public banded together and filed a total of 42 official complaints about various aspects of the books, based on their overall premise that local educators were going to fill young minds with progressive propaganda at considerable expense to the public. The price tag for the new material was estimated at $300,000.
Surprisingly, before the board met again to consider the complaints, the textbook committee yanked all of its recommendations. No one saw it coming, least of all the board. It was the equivalent of putting up the white flag of surrender before the opponents’ shots came within a mile of their target.
I read every complaint, and I think the textbook committee could have easily, justifiably dismissed nearly every one and stuck to its recommendations. It was the panel’s job to wade through this convoluted, last-minute mess that had been submitted by opponents and determine if it had any merit.
Instead, the members abdicated their responsibility in the hope the confrontation will die down and the district can develop a “process” that makes it harder for just a few people to muck up textbook decisions that had been thoroughly vetted through many months of work.
The committee urged the trustees “to adopt a process for resource adoption that is fair to all concerned and reasonable to implement and also a process the board of trustees will honor and support.” The current set of outdated textbooks is apparently deemed good enough until the adults can all play nicely together.
What kind of message does that send to Cody’s middle school and high school students, as well as parents and taxpayers? Teachers and the board couldn’t reach a decision because some felt too threatened by a few loud, unreasonable critics of their work. Is “run and regroup” supposed to be the solution best for everyone?
School Board Chairman Jake Fulkerson said the controversy was “frustrating for all” and called the district’s textbook policy flawed. “We’ll have the same curriculum, the same resources we’ve had the last three years, and guess what, we seem to be doing OK,” he told the hometown Cody Enterprise. “I have complete confidence that our kids are not going to get hurt. Now, is it ideal? No, it’s not. But it’s a very valid solution to this mess we’re in. Yeah, it’s a mess.”
But because it’s admittedly a mess, it can’t be seriously considered a valid solution. The district effectively folded its tent and allowed a handful of people irrationally upset with its recommendations to get the upper hand. If these few are emboldened by the results, what’s going to happen when the district takes up even more controversial math and science standards?
Trustee Scott Weber set the tone for the marathon meeting in May when he said he wouldn’t vote to spend a dime on “junk science [that] is against community and state standards.”
The standards that the committee recommending the textbooks apparently violated was the philosophy of “don’t bite the hand that feeds you.” It’s a philosophy ascribed to by many in Wyoming who don’t want to do anything to offend the fossil-fuels industry that pays for the bulk of state government through taxes on its production.
If this pitiful reasoning is allowed, Park County students will be unprepared to meet the challenges they will face competing against better educated students in college and in their careers. The idea that local control is best is an incredibly hollow argument.
As I noted in a May 26 column, the complaints made were a hodgepodge of the type of nonsense Tea Party devotees have claimed in other school districts around the country. Particularly obnoxious was the claim that public education is too busy celebrating multiculturalism, and focuses on minorities instead of the white Christian males who have historically ruled this nation.
The Cody textbook critics’ chief concern was that the much-maligned “Common Core” standards being implemented with the purchase of new textbooks teach that man-caused climate change is “settled science.”
But it is settled science, as all but right-wing idealogues know. More than 97 percent of the world’s leading scientists have established that man’s continued burning of fossil fuels at breakneck speed is endangering the life of our planet and all of its inhabitants. If a conversion to clean energy isn’t accomplished soon, life on earth is in for catastrophic changes. Many scientists think it’s already too late to change the destructive course we’ve been on for decades, but we must try.
I understand many parents are upset with the Common Core standards that have been demonized by conservatives as a brazen, unconstitutional attempt to nationalize public education. Nothing could be further from the truth, as Park County School District No. 6 tried to convey to constituents by publishing its answers to frequently asked questions about Common Core.
Such as: “Did the federal government require states, including Wyoming, to adopt Common Core State Standards?”
Answer: “No. The federal government had no part in the development of the CCSS. It was a state-led effort, and each state can choose to adopt the CCSS or not.”
Ask almost any Common Core opponent, and he or she will deny that answer. But it’s the truth; in no way was the system forced upon Wyoming by the feds. Park County School District No. 6 must have realized that misplaced hatred for the “federal” Common Core could spur people to do exactly what they did in bashing textbooks within the CCSS and getting them delayed, if not outright thrown out.
The district posted its Common Core information on its website in June 2013, which might have given Cody’s textbook opponents a chance to understand how the CCSS was developed and work with local educators on the selections.
If, of course, anybody had bothered to read it, instead of waiting and manufacturing a crisis.
CORRECTION: This column was updated on July 15, 2015 to correct the name of school board trustee Scott Weber. — Ed
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