Over the weekend, I reported on a dustup over the senior humanities curriculum at public high school The Center School, where a parent recently complained about a unit on race in the seniors' Citizenship and Social Justice class. According to Seattle Public Schools spokeswoman Teresa Wippel, next Thursday, March 14, is the last day for the district's curriculum and instruction director, Shauna Heath, to hand down a final decision on whether and how the race and gender portions of the class can be taught in the future.
In the meantime, both KIRO and KOMO have picked up the story, running pieces on air last night about the controversy that focused on current students who are furiously organizing to save the curriculum. (Video for KIRO is here, and KOMO's is here.)
I've been talking to parties involved, and it sounds like tomorrow's school board meeting may be a showdown: Students, alumni, parents, and the teacher whose curriculum has been suspended are all planning to testify.
As I mentioned before, I'm a graduate of the school and took the class in question, so an entertaining part of this situation for me is knowing that this class—and the school itself—has a heavy focus on learning how to get involved in issues you care about. Students and alumni have quite a bit of practice in civic engagement—commenters on the last post pointed out that they've seen students from this class testifying at city and county budget hearings. While a core group of students continues to plan a response, what I hear from them is not just careful and well reasoned arguments in favor of retaining a beloved curriculum but also a larger sense that they believe they have a right to be involved in this discussion. It's a level of engagement that'd probably be surprising if you didn't know the school and its students' history of activism.
A huge issue here is that the district's response could have been much more careful and impact the classroom much less. A complaint from a single family caused both a current unit of study and a future unit that didn't receive a complaint to be suspended, leaving the teacher to fill the yawning gap in curriculum content by switching topics and having extra work time for senior projects. He was also forbidden from explaining to his students what was going on, leaving them confused and frustrated. There is a district process for parent complaints, and much of it is being followed, but it seems dubious whether the superintendent ordering a teacher to stop teaching certain subjects is a part of that process.
Also, the curriculum being disputed is about racism and sexism, and there's a feeling from much of the school community that one family is exercising a lot of force to shut down discussions of controversial topics in a longstanding curriculum that's never received complaints before and contributes to the school's mission, which has a specific focus on social justice.
Yesterday, the school district released a general statement that mostly reiterated what they've said so far. They also mentioned that "the class continues to meet" and that the race unit "has since ended," which seems a little disingenuous, since it only ended at the direct order of the superintendent and right now the class is missing large portions of its usual content.
One more thing: There's no way to verify this, but someone claiming to be the parent who complained has commented on the original post. They say their complaint is about the teacher and not the curriculum, and that it's not just about one student's experience. But that isn't what we've heard from the district, which has said what they're reviewing is the curriculum and the way it's taught, and that this stems from a finding regarding a single student. There's been no way to contact the family so far, since their identity is private information.
In any event, I'll report on Wednesday's school board meeting when it happens, and other than that, this is a bit of a waiting game.