FALCON — A local organization is planning a protest at District 49's Board Meeting next Thursday after the district reprimanded a teacher for violating policy by including depictions of Black Lives Matter.
The protest is being organized by The Empowerment Solidarity Network to show support for the teacher and denounce systemic racism.
According to the district, fourth-graders in the Art Explore class at Bennett Ranch Elementary engaged in the lesson on January 19 and 20. While the contents of the lesson met state academic standards related to culture, the material over Black Lives Matter was presented without following district policy of notifying parents about potentially controversial topics. Parents can be brought in for input, or to sign off on the subject. They can also choose to remove their student from class during such a lesson.
The lesson labeled, "Civil Rights Movement and the Art of Protest," tasked students with watching Tim and Moby from Brainpop then watch the third video from September 2020 that talks about artists that are working to help affect social change in the world today. (Watch Video here) The video showcased murals featuring George Floyd and Black Lives Matter.
The district tells News 5 that "Black Lives Matter" is considered controversial per district policy. According to the policy, Controversial issues include matters characterized by significant differences of opinion usually generated from differing underlying values, beliefs, and interests, which produce significant social tension and which are not necessarily resolvable by reference to accepted facts. Examples of such materials include, but are not limited to, those that depict explicit sexual content, graphic violence, profanities, drug use, or other socially undesirable behaviors, or materials that are likely to divide the community along racial, ethnic, or religious lines.
A district spokesperson says a letter was sent to parents because the lesson violated district policy, rather than because of what was taught.
The district also releasing an additional statement following News 5 initial report of the situation.
As part of a lesson linking Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and the American Civil Rights Movement with current events, an art teacher included a street mural saying, “Black Lives Matter.” That phrase has many meanings and associations, including some that are controversial, so we should have followed our controversial materials policy and notified parents in advance. We regret that oversight. Our policy and process invite feedback, so the identification and subsequent correction honors our process, and does not make a value judgement on the content. Although we will continue including discussions of contemporary issues in many areas of our curriculum, we commit to host these conversations carefully in partnership with parents and seasoned with grace and humility. We are grateful that parents support us and trust they will keep holding us to the highest standard.
Community members are voicing their concerns over the lesson plan. While some believe it was inappropriate, especially for young children, to be exposed to the subject matter, others say it's important they learn about current events.
"There are some things on Black Lives Matter that I fully support, but then there are other things where I am like no way. I am aware that we just got through with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and I saw that this teacher was trying to correlate MLK with BLM, but it's completely different," said Serbrina Steinbach, Colorado Springs parent. "Martin Luther King Jr. didn't condone acts of violence. He didn't condone walking up to white people and beating the crap out of them for the color of their skin. His protests were literally walking into a restaurant and sitting in a white-only booth and demand to be served."
"As a parent, it was like wow they got offended over that. It's kinda getting nitpicky now, it's kinda like they want to close the minds of everyone and make everything so narrow-minded. It is really upsetting as a parent because my husband is a graffiti artist so I understand how art plays a big part in change," said Stacey Ayala, Colorado Springs parent and teacher.
Steinbach says politics don't belong in the classroom, especially when it comes to young children.
"It can really affect how their brain interprets the situation at hand," said Steinbach.
She believes the teacher should have continued with the Martin Luther King Jr. lesson plan, but without incorporating Black Lives Matter content.
"You don't take away a man's fire because something else more current happened that resembles something that happened in the 50 and 60s. What we have going on here is a lot different," said Steinbach. "
She says it's important that districts check with parents and get approval for controversial topics.
"Send home a permission slip, and if they disagree find something else for their child to do," said Steinbach.
"Sometimes with the pandemic, they don't approve a lot of the stuff that you're teaching. In my district, a lot of the school books they don't have so they have to come up with teacher plans and strategies off the internet and they don't know it's not approved until it's too late," said Ayala.
Ayala is studying to be an early childhood development teacher and says it's important that children are exposed to issues like BLM at a young age.
"Children thrive in positive environments and learning about things they can do to change to make things more positive. I can't imagine how some of the parents feel that are in that class and that other parents are like how dare you teach that. What's that mean, like it's okay to stay the same and be ignorant about what's going on in the world," said Ayala. "This teacher was just trying to go outside of the box and make it interesting and present time."
While the district says it was about policy, Eugene Johnson, a D49 Alumni, and president of UCCS Black Student Union tells News 5 that it was about placating parents.
"I personally don't feel like it has anything to do with policy at all. It's just more so in preventing parents from causing friction," said Johnson.
When he went to school in the district, he says there wasn't much discussion over Black History which is why he wasn't surprised with how the district handled the situation.
"There wasn't an emphasis on Black History at all. They would replace it with the holocaust which was also bad, but if we're learning about history then our history is a part of their history," said Johnson.
He says when he did learn about Black History, he learned about Malcolm X in a small paragraph and Martin Luther King Jr. for two pages.
"There was no in-depth analysis of black history at all, it was pretty much terrible," said Johnson. "I think policies need to change cause when it comes down to history it's not adding input to it and saying history is alright unless you talk about this or unless you talk about that. History, altogether, everyone should learn about it."
Johnson says if that means meetings or protests need to happen to create real change, then so be it.