Colorado board of ed­u­ca­tion talks bias

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Eliz­a­beth Her­nan­dez

Could Colorado’s stan­dards for health lessons for its fourth-graders be bi­ased against guns?

That’s what some mem­bers of the Colorado State Board of Ed­u­ca­tion be­lieve, and al­though their con­cerns didn’t pre­vail at a board meet­ing Wed­nes­day, it all made for a provoca­tive dis­cus­sion.

Joyce Rankin, a Repub­li­can from Car­bon­dale, got the con­ver­sa­tion started by crit­i­ciz­ing as too neg­a­tive a sec­tion ex­plain­ing the po­ten­tial dan­gers of weapons at home, in school and in the com­mu­nity. She wanted to add a dis­cus­sion about the ben­e­fits of us­ing guns for self-de­fense.

But ac­tivists, con­cerned par­ents, and a 12­year­old Denver stu­dent and her lit­tle sis­ter crit­i­cized Rankin’s pro­posal be­fore the board’s de­bate about how much el­e­men­tary­aged kids should learn about guns in school.

“I’m con­fused,” said the stu­dent, Haven Coleman. “Schools al­ready tell kids guns are bad, but now they want to tell us guns can be good in a con­flict? What are we sup­posed to do? Bring a gun to school if we’re be­ing bul­lied? And why are we telling fourth­graders this?”

Haven’s 9­year­old sib­ling, Anna, stood next to her. “It makes me scared to even go to fourth grade,” Anna said. “Be­cause what if the drills are real? It isn’t OK.”

Af­ter the scathing pub­lic com­ment and a neg­a­tive response from the board’s Com­pre­hen­sive Health and Phys­i­cal Ed­u­ca­tion Stan­dards Re­vi­sion Com­mit­tee, Rankin agreed that talk­ing about guns in terms of self­de­fense was not age­ap­pro­pri­ate for fourth­graders. Her pro­posed amend­ment did not move for­ward.

About 100 pages of fourth­grade health stan­dards were ap­proved, in­clud­ing the sec­tion in ques­tion that fo­cuses on vi­o­lence­free re­la­tion­ships. Stu­dents are ex­pected to demon­strate con­flict­res­o­lu­tion tech­niques, de­scribe si­t­u­a­tions that lead to vi­o­lence and ex­plain pos­i­tive al­ter­na­tives to vi­o­lence, in­clud­ing the con­tro­ver­sial line: “Ex­plain the po­ten­tial dan­gers of hav­ing weapons at home, in school, and in the com­mu­nity.”

Rankin felt the stan­dard was bi­ased against guns.

“I be­lieve our doc­u­ment, as it’s writ­ten, puts fear in class­rooms,” Rankin said. “I heard it to­day, and I’ve heard it from teach­ers — the fear. We need to make chil­dren feel safe, and talk­ing about dan­gers and neg­a­tive things will only bring more fear into the class­room.”

How­ever, the board’s health com­mit­tee did re­vise the stan­dard based on pub­lic in­put that came in the win­ter. Now, the up­dated stan­dard in­cludes the fol­low­ing guid­ance for teach­ers to con­sider dur­ing the risk man­age­ment les­son: “How can the use of guns and other weapons be pos­i­tive?”

Melisa Siegel, who has taught fourth and fifth grade in Denver Pub­lic Schools, likened the pro­posed amend­ment and the re­vi­sion to pro­pa­ganda from the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion.

“This could not dis­play a more will­ful blind eye to gun vi­o­lence,” Siegel said. “Stu­dents need ex­actly the op­po­site. You should be ashamed of this pre­pos­ter­ous lan­guage that has been in­cor­po­rated.”

An­other board mem­ber agreed with Rankin.

Debora Sch­ef­fel, a Repub­li­can from Parker, also ex­pressed con­cern dur­ing last month’s board meet­ing that chil­dren were hear­ing bias against guns.

“I didn’t like the lan­guage,” Sch­ef­fel said. “It talked merely about the neg­a­tive im­pact. Ob­vi­ously, we’ve had hor­rific school shoot­ings and ter­ri­ble things hap­pen­ing, but I do think we shouldn’t have bi­ased lan­guage in here that doesn’t rec­og­nize that also self­de­fense is an im­por­tant as­pect.”

While the state sets stan­dards that act as broad guid­ance for teach­ers, Floyd Cobb, the state ed­u­ca­tion depart­ment’s ex­ec­u­tive direc­tor of teach­ing and learn­ing, said how teach­ers im­ple­ment those stan­dards in the class­room de­pends en­tirely on school dis­tricts.

“The geog­ra­phy of Colorado,” Cobb said, “would make that les­son look dif­fer­ent depend­ing on where the school is.”

Tay An­der­son, pres­i­dent of Never Again Colorado, the youth­ori­ented or­ga­ni­za­tion com­mit­ted to end­ing gun vi­o­lence, said the board mem­bers propos­ing schools talk more fa­vor­ably about guns were out of touch with com­mu­ni­ties of color and the needs of chil­dren.

“They don’t need to be taught about pos­i­tive as­pects of guns in the house­hold,” An­der­son said.

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