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19 times Jeffco parents challenged curriculum and changed how students are taught

Pomona High School students rallied against a proposed curriculum review committee Tuesday. A review of previously challenged materials under current Jeffco Public Schools board policy found about one-fifth of challenges have been victorious.
Pomona High School students rallied against a proposed curriculum review committee Tuesday. A review of previously challenged materials under current Jeffco Public Schools board policy found about one-fifth of challenges have been victorious.
Nicholas Garcia

In 1981, a Jefferson County curriculum review committee banned The Book of Lists, which, according to the book’s publisher, is “filled with intriguing information and must-talk-about trivia it has spawned many imitators — but none as addictive or successful.”

In 1989, a similar panel said a “homosexual speaker” was only allowed to address students who had permission from parents.

And in 2008, Stephen King’s It, the graphic horror novel that depicts seven children terrorized by a clown, was removed from middle school libraries but remained in high schools.

For the past three school days, Jefferson County students have rallied in the streets against a proposed curriculum review committee. We wanted to examine how often pieces of curriculum have been successfully challenged in the school district.

Since 1968, nearly 100 pieces of curriculum — books, movies, entire courses — have been challenged by Jefferson County parents and community members.

About one-fifth of those challenges have resulted in either an outright ban on classroom materials or restrictions put in place, according to a Chalkbeat analysis of Jeffco Public Schools documents. In some instances, it is clear why certain curriculum was either challenged or banned.

INTERACTIVE: Search the Jeffco “banned book” database here.

The complaints were filed under existing school district policies that allow parents to challenge materials his or her students are provided either in a classroom or school library.

According to Jeffco Superintendent Dan McMinimee, the district has 24 such policies to either establish or review curriculum.

But conservative school board member Julie Williams wants to establish one more: a community committee that would serve at the school board’s pleasure. Williams would like that committee — which has not yet been established — to start off with an advanced history course that is drawing the ire of conservatives. It is her proposal that has ignited the three days of student protests.

While Williams’ proposal has sparked debate, it is true Jeffco has existing policies that provides the board the ability to weigh in on curriculum.

Take for example, the May 1996 case of Nova: The Miracle of Life. The school board at the time overturned a decision by the district’s superintendent to ban the video.

Here are some other interesting takeaways from our analysis of the challenged curriculum:

  • More than half the challenges to Jeffco curriculum happened in the 1980s
  • Novels, including classics like Of Mice and Men, have been challenged the most, 34 times.
  • Other language arts texts have been challenged 18 times.
  • Science curriculum has been challenged eight times.
  • Social studies curriculum has been challenged 14 times.
  • No other author had more books challenged than King. Eight of his books were challenged in the fall of 2008. Only It was removed from a middle school library. His other works were permitted to remain in the school district’s library.

Social studies material that has either been banned or had restrictions placed on them include the books Human Expression: A history of Peoples and Cultures and My Forbidden Face: Growing Up Under the Taliban. The movie The Seduction of Joe Tynan also makes the list.

The last recorded challenge to any Jeffco curriculum was in 2011; that would be Patricia McCormick’s book about a 15-year-old girl who self-mutilates. The book remains in Jeffco libraries.

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