Center School Race and Social Justice Class Issue Heats Up

As Charlie previously reported (via The Stranger Slog), an issue has arisen in a class at The Center School where a student and his/her parents feel some of the material created"intolerable discomfort" for their student.

I still don't have all the whys and whats about this issue but I am seeking clarification.

I will put forth that I was wrong about further appeals.  Upon examining the Superintendent procedures, I see that only parents can continue an appeal up to the Board.  Teachers are limited to a final ruling by the head of Teaching and Learning. 

Now the procedure says that:
The principal will work with the complainant and the teacher to determine if the issue can be resolved at the school level, and shall provide a decision to the complainant within 10 school days.

I do not know if this occurred but I believe so. Therefore, the parents then took it to the district level.

The Director of Curriculum and Instructional Supports will appoint an ad hoc committee to review the objection to the materials. The committee shall be composed of the school principal, the regional Executive Director of Schools, the manager of the content area in question, and two other persons ("general members") selected by the Director of Curriculum and Instructional Supports. At least one of the general members should be a non-staff member of the school community where the material was used.

The committee shall submit a written report outlining the committee's review process and its recommendation about the complaint to the Director of Curriculum and Instructional Supports within ten (10) school days after the complaint has been received.

The Director of Curriculum and Instructional Support shall review the report and send his/her decision in writing to the complainant within ten (10) school days after the ad hoc committee's written report was received. 

Neither the ad hoc committee nor the Director of Curriculum and Instructional Supports is required to take testimony from witnesses about the material at issue; a paper review is deemed sufficient.  

If the instructional material being appealed is a supplementary material, the decision of the Director of Curriculum and Instructional Supports is final; there are no further appeals. 

This was a supplementary material and not a School Board-approved curriculum (as I understand it).

But I see nothing in the procedure about how a teacher can appeal so I think the SEA would have to tell us what is in a teacher's contract to protect approved supplementary materials.

It is my understanding that this teacher has been teaching this class for years.  Several former students wrote comments of support for the class at The Stranger Slog.

Here's a petition started by a senior at the school that already has 430 signatures.


mirmac1 said…
Hmmm, was the "Brave New World" appeal a board-approved curriculum?
Anonymous said…
There may be no further internal appeals for the teacher. But Heath's decision can be appealed to superior court.

Charlie Mas said…
Yes, Brave New World was board-approved instructional material.
Anonymous said…
Thank you for the description of the Superintendent Procedure for an Instructional Materials Complaint. We had an issue that predates this procedure, but it's good to know there is a formal process for parents if their complaints are not taken seriously by administration.

I can't speak to the Center School issue, but we have found our issues resolved at the school level for the most part. Sometimes it's a matter of the teacher simply not having read the book that the students have been given (Readers and Writers Workshop model...).

Benjamin Leis said…
Does anyone have any details on the exact complaint? Its hard to evaluate what's going on with all this second and third hand information.

mirmac1 said…
So any teacher who wants to supplement materials in their class to better differentiate their lessons for learners, can (and I know WILL) have these materials quashed. This is concerning because we all know how great the district's T&L department has been doing for the last number of years. And this is another example of doublespeak - differentiation versus standardization. Which do you think will prevail?
mirmac1 said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
mirmac1 said…
Isn't there a provision in the CBA protecting academic freedom?

"“Free interchange of ideas leading to clearer understandings at the maturity level of pupils must be expected as a part of effective teaching. Any challenge of members of the professional staff relative to the use of educational materials on the basis of suitability, upon their presentation of ideas involving morality or patriotism, or upon their literary merit, shall be resolved through utilizing established administrative channels.”
dj said…
Another thing that I do not understand from the coverage--is it always the case that one parent can, through objection, stay the curriculum? Is it only if the materials have not specifically been approved by the district? Can one parent always get this level of review if the materials have not specifically been approved by the district?
DJ, I find the whole thing odd.

I'm thinking since it hit the district level, the parents found no satisfaction at the school level. As soon as I have details confirmed, I can tell you more but I think the parents are quite good (and may be lawyers) at pushing their viewpoint.

I can't believe for an established class that a school or district can be this intimidated.
mirmac1 said…
I don't believe the CBA language "be resolved through established administrative channels" means by edict of a middle manager.

Relatedly, in cases I am aware of, admin will use a parent complaint (that is usually ignored, right?) as fodder to go after experienced teachers. Got to build that case for the PIP/probation.

I know of >$100Ks being spent on investigating and persecuting experienced teachers and staff, and once some students/parents get wind that a teacher is vulnerable - the whining, grade-grubbing and complaining can begin in earnest. Some day I'll elaborate on this point. Needless to say, you would be amazed at how much $$$ Legal can spend without limits.

BTW, sorry for being such a frequent poster. Kinda chatty.
reluctant reader said…
The nature of the complaint is in the comments of the related Stranger article. The complaint is not about the curriculum, though it is under review. The complaint is related to the behavior of the teacher in the classroom.
Anonymous said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said…
I experienced the flip side of this issue in our school district. I submitted a request to have some objectionable material reviewed because without a lesson plan around it - it just fostered continued racist views and practices. The district conducted their review and declared that the material could stay because it was an excellent example for that time period and they pushed the issue onto the teacher - leaving her hanging out to dry. She dropped the material, btw.

This overall topic is related to a Nationwide Study I am doing for my dissertation.

White mothers of biracial daughters and sons are invited to participate in the study. I will be in Seattle April 10 - 14th to interview mothers for this critical study. Please let families know about the study and interested families can contact me.
Charlie Mas said…
Mr. Greenberg has written a letter to the Center School community in which he explains his understanding of the situation.

The superintendent - and it was the superintendent who did it - took an extraordinary step in directing the teacher to suspend the curriculum until the complaint is resolved. That's not how things have been done in the past and you can imagine what trouble this precident creates. All curricula could be suspended through a series of complaints.

I think we can confidently conclude that the matter was brought to the distrct officials by the student's family as an appeal of the decision made at the school level - the principal stands behind her teacher.

This matter is distressing in a variety of ways.

1. That anyone could enroll their child in an option school with a stated social justice focus and then object to discussions of social justice.

2. That a single complaint could cause the suspension of a long-standing course. That was a really odd choice by the Superintendent. What would he do if someone objected to Everyday Math or CMP II? Would he suspend it as well?

3. The family has refused all compromises. I'm distressed that the family is pressing this complaint without any interest in an accomodation for their child - such as being individually excused from the course work. Their motivation appears punitive towards the teacher rather than protective towards their child. They are on some kind of crusade, but this is not the proper mechanism for such a campaign.

If Ms Heath decides in favor of the curriculum, the student's family may yet appeal it to the School Board.

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