Teachers, parents and activists implored the State Board of Education to consider reinstating LGBTQ+ references in the social studies standards during a Wednesday board meeting in Colorado Springs
The board’s regular meeting room in Denver is being renovated to include, among other things, extra space for two additional board members who will be elected in November, bringing the total number of state board members to nine, according to Education Commissioner Katy Anthes.
The meeting included recognition of Colorado Springs School District 11’s 150th anniversary, a discussion on literacy training for K-12 teachers, and a 6-1 vote to reinstate Adams School District 14’s accreditation, which the board voted to revoke in May.
But the overwhelming majority of the public comments revolved around the Social Studies Standards Review and Revision Committee’s withdrawal of its plans to add, in its revision of state standards, references to the queer community in classes below fourth grade.
The committee, composed of social studies teachers and professors from across the state, presented the first draft of revision recommendations to State Board of Education in November.
The provisional changes were made in accordance with House Bill 19-1192, “Inclusion of American Minorities in Teaching Civil Government,” which states, in part, that social studies and civics classes should include “the history, culture and social contributions of American Indians, Latinos, African Americans and Asian Americans, and the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals within these minority groups.”
But when the revisions were made available for public feedback, numerous concerns were raised about the appropriateness of referencing LGBTQ people in lower grades. In April, the committee decided against including any references to queer people in social studies curriculum below fourth grade.
At Wednesday's meeting, attendees who in the past had raised concerns about the lower grades did not make public comments.
Speakers at the Wednesday meeting pointed out that about half of the 4,499 pieces of negative feedback reviewed by the committee came from just six respondents.
“Do not be intimidated by voices of fear that think by not mentioning race or LGBTQIA+ people we can somehow prevent the world from changing, and blind students to the world around them,” said Jen Williamson, a church pastor and education advocate. “Be on the right side of history.”
Angelica Givler, a fifth grade teacher in District 11, said she was encouraged a few years ago when she noticed a marked increase in diverse and inclusive literature across the country. Removing queer references from the social studies standards would be a step in the wrong direction, she said.
“It was clear (in 2016) that the world realized the importance of including all communities,” Givler said. “It is astonishing to me that we are going backwards rather than continuing to grow as a community.”
Studies have shown that young readers feel a greater connection to the books they read when they can see themselves within the text, Givler said.
“Students that are not represented in text have a higher dropout rate. It seems to me that making sure we include all students in our textbooks and libraries would help with engagement, comprehension and increased graduation rates. This needs to be true at all ages and grade levels.”
Jessie Pocock, CEO of Inside Out Youth Services, said diverse and inclusive historical references are crucial in helping young people be proud of who they are, regardless of skin color, ethnic background or sexual orientation/identity.
“It is so critically important that we have standards that are inclusive so that young people can see what’s possible for them,” said Pocock, a 2000 graduate of Palmer High School. “Please consider reinstating the (original) standards that were offered up by the commissioners who did that really, really important work.”
The state board plans to finalize the social studies standards by the end of the year. In accordance with its policy, members did not respond to public commentary at Wednesday’s meeting.
The State Board of Education will meet in Greeley in October and in Thornton in November as the renovation of its Denver meeting room continues, according to the board's website. .