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Woodland Park teachers speak out against district leadership over policies, funding

Posted at 12:49 AM, Oct 06, 2023

WOODLAND PARK — On Thursday night over a hundred Woodland Park community members, teachers, and staff gathered at the Ute Pass Cultural Center to express concerns over policy changes and funding cuts made by the school district's leadership.

Over 81 Woodland Park School District (WPSD) teachers and staff members signed a letter to the community urging them to call upon the school board members and Superintendent Ken Witt to get rid of the district's new social studies standards and re-apply for funding for mental health services.

The Woodland Park School Board adopted the American Birthright standards in January. The standards were created by a group called the Civics Alliance and are used as a model for social studies and civics standards. The group's policy director claims the standards work against ideologies like critical race theory that are being introduced into public education.

The teachers at the meeting on Thursday night said the American Birthright standards were rejected by the Colorado State Board of Education and do not accurately teach students about the nation's history.

"They're not recognized at the high school level by colleges or universities. They don't have the same academic rigor, which is why they were rejected by the state of Colorado," said Anna Hand, a WPSD middle school English teacher. "My main fear is that the content that is in the standards is very limited and it does not focus on the skills that students will need to be successful."

The teachers and staff also said the school board decided not to reapply for $1.2 million in grant funding that was previously used for mental health services in the district.

"When children are struggling and they don't have access to support, it impacts every kid and that's every family and that's the entire community," said Hand.

Debie Metcalfe is a former WPSD middle school secretary and said she decided not to return to her job this school year because of the decisions made by the board and superintendent.

"I feel that this board is systematically trying to destroy public education," she said. "If things don't change with the board election, there will be a lot of people leaving this town."

The teachers and staff said nearly 40% of employees did not return this school year and the district has yet to fill all of their positions.

WPSD Superintendent Ken Witt released a statement in response to the public meeting of teachers and staff on Thursday night:

It continues to disappoint us to see the teachers union prioritize its political views over the needs of students. If the energy they invest in attacking the Woodland Park School District (WPSD) administration and school board was instead turned towards academics, there would not be a need for the board to direct implementation of sound and fundamental educational standards.

This “teacher press conference” appears to be another union tactic to again dredge up issues that have been thoroughly addressed. These union affiliates are engaging in political maneuvering when the focus should be on the education and safety of our students, which they claim to care deeply about. We are equally disappointed but unsurprised to see CBS choose to be a platform for union opposition to the improvement of education in Woodland Park, enthusiastically seeking to assist in the union opposition to our school board.

Yes, this district adopted a traditional framework for civics and social studies - because we had to realign from courses such as “civil disobedience” and statements by the teachers union in Colorado that they disavow Capitalism, the free market which makes this nation the envy of the world, while they quip communist tropes. And yes, we still ensure we meet or exceed Colorado state standards.

Our community is tired of teachers believing they have the authority to determine what is taught. This is the responsibility of the people, through their elected representatives, the board of education. The concept of teacher supremacy over the rights of parents, voters, and even representative democracy must be rejected.

Yes, we declined some money earmarked for mental health services, which are often utilized for gender confusion and sexual identity matters instead of the sort of counseling and character development that our schools ought to pursue. We are returning to pre-COVID norms, focusing on teaching academics rather than loading the system with so many social workers and mental health practitioners that little time is left for learning. We have a counselor in every school and teachers who are trusted adults and watchful for students needing additional support. We also forged a new partnership with Mindsight this year to ensure we have all mental health support needed.

This district aims to design policies that uphold a respectful working and learning environment while fully honoring First Amendment rights. It is important to emphasize that WPSD does not seek to suppress anyone's First Amendment rights. Nevertheless, it is expected that all district employees conduct themselves professionally and portray the district aims positively when working in their capacity as employees, where they have a role as representatives of WPSD.

We recognize that there continue to be staff members who seek to pursue goals related to unorthodox worldviews that run counter to the values of this community, but we are adamant that the role of the school is to come alongside parents in the education of their children. It is not the role of the school to be endorsing ideologies or undermine the values taught in the home. This administration proudly acknowledges the accomplishments which this small group of union-affiliated individuals decry. Their proposed alternative, a return to sexual politics, anti-capitalism, and hatred for America, is unacceptable to the administration of this school district, our board, and our community.
Ken Witt, Superintendent Woodland Park School District
Ken Witt

There will be three school board member seats up for grabs during the district's school board election on Nov. 7:

  • District A, currently held by At-Large Director Mick Bates
  • District C, currently held by Board Vice President David Illingworth II
  • District D, currently held by Board Secretary Cassie Kimbrell

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