It's not 1 a.m. It's 2:15 p.m. and I have a sick groucho toddler on my hands who is lying on the couch with her blankie and her tablet for quiet time.
So let's do this. If you missed PART ONE, I'd suggest catching up there first because we are diving right into the policy up for discussion at Tuesday night's board meeting.
Now, I'm no expert on analyzing bills/policy... I often find that the language can be vague or indirect or deceptive, and usually I'm just a straight shooter so it takes me a while to read through policies and really get a grasp at what's being proposed/implied in the language, whether or not it's common practice and what pings as "off" to me.
Remember, you can view the policy up for discussion, HERE.
NOW BELOW, BOLDED IN BLUE ARE THE PARTS THAT I WOULD LIKE FURTHER CLARIFICATION ON. BOLDED IN GREEN ARE MY PERSONAL QUESTIONS. BOLDED IN RED ARE MY PERSONAL COMMENTS. Everything else is excerpts pulled from proposal.
So, the policy pretty much starts out with this text:
"The Governing Board desires that district instructional materials, as a whole, present a broad spectrum of knowledge and viewpoints, have proven academic value for the discipline in which it is taught*, reflect the diversity of our society, and enhance the use of multiple teaching strategies and technologies. The Board shall adopt instructional materials based on a determination that such materials are an effective learning resource to help students achieve, at a minimum, grade-level competency for each discipline and that the materials meet criteria specified in law. Textbooks, technology-based materials, and other educational materials shall be aligned with academic content standards and the district's curriculum to ensure that they effectively support the district's adopted courses of study." (*The line bolded here is the line they also have bolded in the policy.)
QUESTION ONE: What exactly does this statement suggest? For example, if a core lit book's content is heavily focused on a story set during World War 2, is there room for interpretation that it is better suited for a "history" discipline, therefore making it possible that this text be removed from consideration and designated more appropriate for a different discipline? Does this open the door for a limitation of texts simply due to diverse subject matter they may cover?
"The Board shall adopt instructional materials for grades 9-12 upon determining that the materials meet the criteria specified in law and administrative regulation. (Education Code 60400)". QUESTION TWO: does the phrase administrative regulation refer broadly to policies created by districts that may not be standard across the public school system?
Under the Selection Process:
When selecting materials, teachers shall make every attempt to abide by Principle I of the California Teachers Association (CTA) Code of Ethics. “ In fulfillment of the obligation to the student, the educator... shall not intentionally expose the student to embarrassment or disparagement, shall not on the basis of race, color, creed, sex, national origin, marital status, political or religion[sic] beliefs, family, social, or cultural background, or sexual orientation, unfairly a) exclude any student from participation in any program; b) deny benefits to any student; c) grant any advantage to any student.”
QUESTION THREE: By including this text, is there an underlying implication that the teachers in our district currently do this? Or is it simply standard to remind teachers not to embarrass or disparage their students?
OK, to me, this one is a biggie:
"Careful and considered selection of literature and nonfiction for school libraries and classrooms should be made according to established policies and procedures. Classroom teachers, teacher librarians, and administrators should anticipate that literature, which is often based on real-life issues, and nonfiction works may draw requests to reconsider the use of a particular book and that any piece of literature or nonfiction work is potentially objectionable to someone for some reason. Therefore, ideal selection policies designed by the District establish procedures for reconsidering the use of a particular title and which reflect the school’s philosophy of education and the curriculum, community values, and students’ ages. (cf. 1312.2 - Complaints Concerning Instructional Materials)"
QUESTION FOUR: So, if I'm understanding correctly, we're now not just talking about core lit titles, but any books in the school library, whether or not they are part of the curriculum? Additionally there is verbiage here that indicates a RECONSIDERATION of "titles" (texts) based on the school's/district's policy. Does this mean that through this policy, if approved, the district can request a reviewal of all current books used not just for classroom, but also stocked in the library?
When a district employee from any discipline desires to use instructional materials that have not been approved by the District, the employee shall read the book in its entirety to determine whether in the employee’s professional judgement the book (or excerpt) is consistent with the District criteria for the selection of supplementary instructional materials. The employee shall then follow the District process for approving instructional materials.
QUESTION FIVE: I'm assuming this is fairly standard... but, what is the District criteria for supplementary instructional materials? If supplemental, I imagine it's not nearly as rigorous in nature that the review process for core lit?
"The Superintendent or designee shall also prepare administrative regulations that define a literature selection process that is aligned with the following general approach...."
QUESTION SIX: "or designee" ...would this be the curriculum director? Who is eligible to be a designee that defines the literature selection process?
"A committee of parents/legal guardians and community members shall also review instructional materials and make their recommendations to the board."
QUESTION SEVEN: Is it common practice to have a parent committee review all instructional/supplemental/core lit materials before the board approves it? Is this not what the curriculum committee (which is comprised of experienced, credentialed teachers who are experts in their fields) do? Or is this separate from that? Are we suggesting that the current curriculum vetting process is not efficient or sufficient for our district....or how does this component relate to the current approval process we have?
Ok, this next part is oddly worded to me?
For the specific purpose of reviewing requests to use works of literature and non-fiction in District curriculum, the Board shall direct the Superintendent to:
1. Create a committee of teachers and administrators to review supporting documents for requests to use potential selections. The committee members are encouraged to read requested selections themselves and must review in a timely 5 manner such that a public review period is available to parents/legal guardians and community members prior to use in the classroom. (Education Code 51101)
2. Create a committee of parents/legal guardians and community members to review supporting documents for requests to use potential selections. The committee members are encouraged to read requested selections themselves and also must review in a timely manner. This committee will be chosen and appointed by the Board. Each Board member shall appoint two members to the committee from among the applicants, who may be the parents/legal guardians of children currently enrolled as K-12 students in the District or community members. (EC 60002)
3. Selections that are approved by at least one of these two committees shall be brought to the Board, accompanied by the recommendation from each committee, for approval.
QUESTION EIGHT: There are only two committees listed above: the committee of teachers/administrators & the committee of parents/legal guardians. So, when the verbiage says "selections that are approved by at least two of the committees shall be brought to the board..." isn't it basically stating that if the parent committee doesn't approve the material, it won't be brought before the board? Isn't this giving a LOT of power to parents with agendas here? Should parents have 50/50 say in curriculum? Should teachers' opinions not be weighted heavier due to their expertise?
OK, here's where we get to the opt-out portion of the policy --- THE ONLY THING THIS POLICY WAS CREATED TO ADDRESS TO BEGIN WITH....
Alternative Core Literature Assignments The Board recognizes its responsibility to allow choice to educators, to parents/legal guardians and to students in the use of adopted core literature materials. This includes the choice for educators to develop the most effective lessons based on the approved materials, and the choice of parents/legal guardians and students to request an alternative assignment when the content of these materials is in conflict with personal sensibilities and/or values. The Superintendent or designee shall prepare administrative regulations that are aligned with Board policy for the following process:
1. Ensure selections with the following recommendation or similar recommendation from the California Department of Education Recommended Literature List appear on the teacher syllabus whenever these selections are included on the syllabus: The California Department of Education states, “This book was published for an adult readership and thus contains mature content. Before handing the text to a child, educators and parents should read the book and know the child. ”
2. Ensure the following statement, along with the selections that have the above CDE recommendation (or similar), is provided to parents/guardians via email and at parent-teacher night: “Parents please be advised that the mature content in this book may include one or more of the following: graphic rape, graphic abusive human rights violations, graphic sex, graphic violence and suicidal ideation. The California Department of Education and the CVUSD Board of Education encourage parents to read this book before allowing your child to read it.” This statement could appear once in a footnote with an asterisk (or similar) flagging each book to which this statement applies.
3. Consistent with best practices within the District, inform parents/legal guardians and guardians of all selections, including alternative selections, to be used during the course no later than the school’s parent-teacher night. The District shall provide an avenue for parents/legal guardians to easily and readily access online reviews related to the selected materials.
4. Include the following statement on the syllabus informing the parents/legal guardians that they can request an alternative core literature assignment: “Parents/legal guardians and students have the choice to request an alternative assignment when the content of these materials do not align with or are in conflict with personal sensibilities and/or values.” Parents shall sign and return the syllabus.
5. If the syllabus contains no selections as described in the first step in this process, then all that is required is that the statement in step #4 be added to the syllabus.
6. When a request is received for an alternative assignment, that request shall be honored while taking special care not to embarrass the student.
7. Ensure the District-developed alternative assignment is meaningful, appropriate and adequate instruction is provided for students that choose an alternative assignment.
8. Provide professional development on the Board’s expectation related to this process and the proper protocols when a parent/legal guardian or student requests an alternative assignment.
QUESTION NINE: Ok, lots to unpack here. Syllabuses are to come with warning statements, and warning statements are also to be emailed out to parents and verbally conveyed at back-to-school nights. This also suggests that the books deemed controversial or that fall within the guidelines of this warning label be asterisked or footnoted to further show the GASP, DANGER of the book.
Additionally this policy is promising/guaranteeing that parents will have "the right" to opt out. If you'll recall, the state of California does not legally grant parents the right to opt their children out of text (with three exceptions... discussed in PART ONE). CVUSD has always worked with parents on a case-by-case basis regarding alternative assignments but it is not current practice to guarantee this right to parents. The promise of this right to parents essentially sets up the teacher to be ready and prepared to teach equally, two entire sets of lessons/books.
The language in here again, also stresses that the teacher take special care not to embarrass the student.... why is the theme of embarrassing the student so heavily laced throughout this policy? Again, is it common to have to remind teachers not to embarrass students... or is there some further implication regarding perceived conduct of our teachers?
Isn't this essentially just an indirect way of getting the permission slips Mike Dunn originally wanted, under the guise of a signed syllabus?
1) Does this policy open the door for a re-approval process of all current texts?
2) How much power does this policy give parents and how can we be assured parent committees aren't weighted?
3) I was under the impression this policy was initially supposed to be a policy that addressed some formalization of an opt-out procedure. Why is it also addressing how books are selected and reviewed, and further, how books are are marked in syllabuses? None of these pertain to the actual purpose of simply creating formal language for a parent who wants to pursue opt-out options.
4) Is it commonplace for districts to have opt-out policies in place that guarantee parents rights to opt out not granted by the state, and give parents hefty power in the curriculum vetting process?
5) Does this policy extend beyond core lit approval, to supplemental materials and books found in libraries? Is it opening a crack to have all materials including journals, videos and other publications reviewed under these guidelines?
6) Is it practical to demand that teachers prepare two sets of lesson plans to fulfill the district's promise that parents have the right to opt out?
I have heard from multiple teachers regarding their response to this policy. Some feel betrayed. Many demoralized. Others expected just this from the process, aware that even though a committee was being formed, there was the likelihood that input was set aside in favor of a board-crafted policy.
Teachers' individual feelings on how the process evolved are theirs and theirs alone, so I will not attempt to group their reaction as a collective, other than to state that I am under the impression from those that I spoke with, that the majority (if not all of) teachers in the district are ready to stand firm against a policy that went beyond the scope of what they were asked to do.
I think it's important and wonderful that parents play an active role in their children's education, and that they are invested enough to have opinions regarding the quality of education. However, it is detrimental to our public school system for parents to believe that their personal moral/religious/conservative views have a place in determining and censoring texts used in the public school education. It's inappropriate.
I fully support parent choice which is why it's wonderful that parents are welcome to home school or pick private schools that cater to their religions and/or curtailed curriculum preferences.
We must, must, must stand by our teachers. They are in these positions due to their qualifications, experience and expertise. They are aware of the subject matter, will study it in more depth than parents and have been properly trained on how to guide discussion regarding sensitive topics within a larger context that embraces a diverse curriculum and prepares our students for the real world. It is a disservice to them to suggest that we don't find their experience fit to make appropriate decisions regarding our children's curriculum. (Now certainly there are always exceptions, but these exceptions should not be treated as the norm.)
I trust the teachers in our district. CVUSD is a district people come to and move to for our education standards. I plead with the board not to cater and fall whim to special interest groups with extremist agendas that don't serve all of the students in our district.