Boulder High School scandal comes to a head, Part 2

In this part I’ll cover what the School Board members said at the June 12 School Board meeting on this controversy. This is my own transcription, based on the recording of this Board meeting released recently on BVSDWatch.org. I covered the public participation section of the meeting where parents and students weighed in on the controversy in Part 1.

Again, these are not complete quotes. They talked about other business besides the CWA panel issue. I’ve only included their remarks on the CWA panel, and related issues. Also, like in the first part I have edited out students’ and parents’ names who have been involved or spoken out on this issue, if they haven’t been in the media, in the interest of their privacy. I’ve tried to make sure these quotes are correct, but if they are not, I welcome corrections. Just post them in the comments section of this post, and I’ll correct the post. Also, I have tried to get names correct, but sometimes I had to use my best guess of spelling. If you want to post corrections anonymously just put “Anonymous” in the “Name:” field of your comment.

Teresa Steele:

The Board and administration have felt beseiged upon over the last few weeks from very few individuals in both national and local media. These individuals have continued to cover the Conference on World Affairs panel discussion at Boulder High. Unfortunately what they have continued to repeat is only the most inflammatory comments made by the panelists, which has fueled a fire of hate towards individual Board members and administration, including threatening bodily harm. When the board learned of the panel discussion 6 weeks ago the Board directed the Superintendent to investigate. We only conduct business in public, so it was two weeks later before we received a public report. At that meeting Dr. Garcia reported to the board his findings and actions taken against those who were involved and did not follow Board Policy INB, teaching about controversial issues. I can tell you that steps have been taken to make sure Policy INB is followed in the future. I will save comments regarding this policy for later in the meeting. Outside of BVSD we may not have communicated well, but corrective actions were taken. I do not believe that people understand that actions have been taken, and both the Board and administration took the complaint from a Boulder High family seriously. If one only listened to KOA radio, or Fox News, they certainly would not have been told the truth. As a matter of fact their snippets and even parts of the transcript are available on Fox News, but not in its entirety, because apparently they don’t want people to read the entire truth. The superintendent reported and assured the Board that in the future, every parent will be notified about panel discussions beforehand, and given the opportunity to opt out. Steps will be taken to make sure a balanced panel is in place. A letter of apology was e-mailed out to parents. Yes, a mistake was made. Yes, appropriate actions have been taken.

In reality, in Boulder County, our at-risk survey, conducted of our students, indicates that our teenagers are engaging in sexual activity. Not all, but some. Some are engaging in high-risk behaviors with alcohol and drugs. These students need honest information. I think the students that have spoken here tonight have shown they have the ability to make good decisions for themselves. Please give them the credit that they deserve . . . [A] parent that spoke here tonight made a request, very simple: communicate better with  parents and give them the choice to opt out. That’s where the mistake was made, and that will be corrected. This current witch hunt must come to an end. Dave Kopel from the Independence Institute stated “In the ensuing fallout, the Boulder Valley School District immediately stated that the failure to re-announce the opt-out rule was an error. Moreover the panel violated BVSD policy that a broad range of views be presented on controversial subjects. The responsible employees were reprimanded. End of story? Not for…”–and he puts “CNS”, and that’s the end of his quote that I put in my comments. Again, I repeat, this witch hunt must end. The Board of Education is a volunteer policy governance board. We all chose to run. We all deal with controversial issues when they arise. We do so fairly, and within what the law allows us to do. When policy is violated, we do take it very seriously. The administration has acted as is their responsibility to do so. At this point, all appropriate action has been taken. It continues only as it continues to be misrepresented. We hope that this will be the end of the national media coverage, and that people will understand we are the number one district in the state of Colorado, and our students deserve honesty. If they have learned a lesson, they’ve learned now to question the media, and maybe that’s the best thing that’s come out of this.

This feels like a conflicted mind to me. On the one hand she says that some teens are engaging in high-risk behaviors, and on the other, based on the statements of students who came up to speak, she says, “give them the credit they deserve” for making good decisions. I’ll give them credit on an individual basis, not as a whole. They need to demonstrate that they can make good decisions before I’ll recognize that in them. That’s just common sense. This was a common theme with the comments made by members of the public who came up to speak earlier in the meeting, “Give these students the credit they deserve” for making good decisions, as if all BHS students have this capability. That’s just plain naive, and I’m not going to fall for it. There’s no such thing as a “cookie cutter” teenager. Not all are equal in their faculties of judgement and discernment.

She seems to excuse the CWA panel by saying that the high-risk teens need “honest information”. The information given at the panel was most definitely frank and blunt, but I don’t think in the right direction. The only perspective it provided was from a sexually promiscuous and drug-using lifestyle. It was confusing as well. On the one hand statements were made that openly advocated for students to engage in sex and drugs, and on the other, notes of caution. As I said in my last post. Gerhardt summed the whole thing up: Experiment with drugs and sex, but don’t do it to excess. Is this a good message? For one thing, all the drugs discussed are illegal in Colorado, except for medical marijuana, and even then that can get you in trouble with the Feds, even if medical marijuana is technically legal here. What about the advantages of abstaining from both sex and drugs? I suppose this gets into the area of balance, but it wasn’t just that. I think the messages of openly advocating both sex and drugs just had no place in the presentation. I believe I heard Dr. Garcia to say in the May 18th School Board meeting that Principal Jenkins did issue an apology at some point. I could be mistaken. I’ll need to review that. In any case, “honest information” is dispensed in health class. I don’t see why they would actually need this panel to get the straight beef.

The one thing I’ll agree with Teresa on is that the school district up to this point has not adequately communicated what’s been done to remedy the situation with respect to the CWA panel. Helayne Jones’s statement on the matter (below) explains what violations of policy were found to have been committed. I think it’s at least a good recognition of the problem. I just hope they solve it. I agree with one of the members of the public who came to speak, that it would’ve been better if another assembly had been held before the end of the school year. I don’t think it would’ve been necessary to bring in pro-abstinence panelists, but at least Principal Jenkins and the health staff of the school could’ve come out and said they didn’t endorse the harmful and offensive messages that were given at the panel, and discussed the matter with the students, in case there was any misconception about that. I know some people said there was never a pretext of endorsement, but it was held inside BHS, and as Helayne Jones discusses below, there were a lot of things that weren’t properly communicated about the CWA at BHS this year.

Next up was Jean Paxton:

I don’t know that there is much more that can be said. I think that the students from Boulder High, on both  sides of the issue, expressed themselves extremely well. It is an excellent school. It obviously has very intelligent and capable young people, and very dedicated teachers. . . . No one who organizes something like [the CWA panel] can ever be guaranteed what the speakers are going to say. However, I do think that there were inappropriate things that were said, and I believe that most people do agree, that some of the things that were said were inappropriate. I’m looking forward to us looking at our policies and tightening those up, and making sure that in the future that information is clear to people who come into our schools as well as to our administrators and teachers, though I do have to tell you that I spoke to teachers, particularly health teachers who said, “Who could not know that there’s an opt-out policy?” “Who could not know that they needed parent permission?” So obviously our health teachers are aware of that provision, even if other teachers are not. I think probably one of the best things that has come out of this is a very loud and vocal public discussion about sex and drugs in our community. I’m sure that none of the students at Boulder High, nor probably in any other of the high schools have missed the discussion, and have not had some thoughtful decision-making on their own part.

I would like to, however, take the opportunity to say a few words about abstinence, seeing as how that’s just one of the topics that’s been thrown  around. I think it’s interesting that when you say “abstinence” people immediately jump to “abstinence-only” and we’re not going to talk about anything else, which I think would be a very foolish approach to sex education, but I would like to reiterate that in spite of Dr. Becker’s–or Mr. Becker, whatever–comments, abstinence is 100% effective. He said that 6 years out the statistics show that those who chose an abstinence-only program had no better numbers–I’m trying to put this more effectively–They had the same rate of STDs and pregnancy as those who had not chosen abstinence, but it actually had looked at the various options that they had. My concern is that if that’s true, then it’s very possible that our sex education program is not as effective as it should be, because surely those who chose ignorance over education would have higher numbers. So I’m not quite sure that his point was well made there. I was distressed with his discrediting abstinence, parents, and religion, but that was his opinion and he has a right to say that, though I’m not sure that–I do believe he should be counseled about saying those things in a high school. I think we’ve all learned some very valuable lessons, but I think the one most valuable lesson we have learned is that we do have very capable students in our schools, who have had some thoughful discussions about these topics. And as we talk about our controversial issues policy later I think that we, too, will have an opportunity to discuss how we can make this policy more effective in the future. Thank you.

Of all the Board members, Jean Paxton is one I can agree with on this. I assume I can’t vote for her, since she doesn’t represent my area. Sure wish I could, though.

Patti Smith:

I thought we were going to have a quiet spring Board meeting–or, summer Board meeting, and–apparently not. So, I actually thought I might even get off the hook this evening, speaking. I have attended a couple events, but I was going to try to help shorten the meeting, but in light of the contoversy that this has ellicited I’d like to make just a couple statements. First of all, I’d like to give credit to the intelligence and values of the students at Boulder High School.  That seems to be a very common and strong theme amongst the students, that the students feel like they have been very discredited in both local and national media, and the reason I say this is that I attended the Boulder High School graduation. For those of you who don’t know we pick those dates well in advance, so when I found out after the controversy that I would be going to the Boulder High School graduation I was a little concerned. My friends were concerned for my safety a little bit. I thought about how I might look with a pie in my face if that were to happen, but luckily going to commencement was the best thing I could do, because sitting through this meeting tonight can make you feel that there’s unreasonable and undue tension in our community, and going to the commencement, I saw none of that. I saw students display unique experiences and ideas, but also very traditional values. The students who spoke, there were five total, all showed and expressed love and respect for their family, friends, and their teachers and staff. They were thankful for the opportunities they had been given, and two of the students who spoke were from out of the country when they came into Boulder High School. One was from Mexico and had done well enough academically, and learned English, to be a commencement speaker, and the other was from Nepal, and again I thought at the end of the commencement that these students had such unique experiences overall, but they were also all very traditional in how they felt about their community and what their futures would look like. The keynote speaker also was a very interesting gal. She had been ‘Best Girl’ at Boulder High School in 1977. Her name was Aaron Vinner, and she’s now anchor and correspondent for Israeli Broadcast Authority. She spent a little bit of time talking about journalistic integrity, which she was noting was not really being exhibited in this discussion in our community, but really her point was to talk about how her very unique and interesting experiences at Boulder High had given her the strength and independence she needed to travel abroad. She’s living now in Israel, but she’s also stated repeatedly how proud she was to be an American. So it was fabulous, you guys. You all would have been proud of our students, as I’m sure you already are. A couple other things I attended in addition to that was a Latin American night at Eisenhower Elementary School, which was an interesting event this year. It was the first year that we had one, and it featured Aztec dancers and Mexican food and pinatas, and coincidentally this year we really didn’t have enough volunteers to have a 50s night, but we had enough volunteers to do a Latin American night, so I thought that was an interesting perspective on culture and cultural changes here in Boulder. And then the last thing I went to was–it was a retreat for Boulder Valley Safe Schools Coalition whose mission is to make all students feel safe in schools, and we’re planning for what that will entail for next year, and I’ll keep you posted.

Leslie Smith:

I purposely chose not to speak at the last Board meeting about the Conference of World Affair, but I can no longer sit quietly while my friends and colleagues are being called names and receiving physically intimidating e-mails. I was very glad to see the students get up and speak. I am very proud of Mansour Gidfar. I have had the privilege of working with him when he was a student at Community Montessori. I remember him as a 5th grader being a key birder, and a bird enthusiast, and pointing out different birds when we were up at Brainard Lake. It’s exciting to see him as well as his friends become student leaders. I do support the district’s research and statement put out on the World Affair, which is accessible on our website if anyone wants to read it. I do not support Ms. White’s call for Dr. Garcia, Dr. Jones, and Dr. King to resign. The one thing that I have been very distressed about is, as I said, the name calling and the intimidating e-mails. Dr. Garcia has been addressed as “Dear Moron”. Helayne has been accused of being a “scared little B-word”, and Bud Jenkins has been called a “boob”. These are unfortunately some of the milder phrases that we’ve seen. I just learned on Monday that the secretaries at the Ed Center have been beseiged by phone calls from around the country. They’ve been yelled at and sworn at. I have one question for these adults: What type of role model are you for your children? Is this how you tell them to engage people with whom you disagree with? In my home if one of my children calls somebody a name I call them to the rug and I ask them to apologize. In our district we have strict anti-bullying policy and we work with students to show that this is not the proper behavior. I think it’s a shame that many adults do not abide by these same ethics. I also want to remind adults that the K-20 (sic) educational system does not tolerate intimidating e-mails. In the post-Columbine and Virginia Tech world we take these e-mails very seriously, and students will be suspended and expelled if they intimidate other students through e-mail. Last year C.U. expelled two student athletes for sending an e-mail that intimidated one of their other track colleagues. What good does it do if educators teach students ethical behavior only to have it cast aside once they graduate? I implore the adults that have been sending us foul mouthed and intimidating e-mails to change your ways and be a good role model for your children–for our children. I want to believe that the children of today will be ethical and respectful citizens of the future. Thank you.

Ken Roberge:

In the interest of time I’m just going to say that I’m really impressed with some of the things that have been said here tonight. I agree with all of them. I think this whole affair has been very unfortunate with the way it has rolled out, and I think that the accusations that we are morons, that we do not care about kids, that we are actively promoting high risk behaviors among our youth are just totally false. I hope that the discussion that we’ll have later on about our policy will show how much we do care with our policy on these issues, how much we really try to present a balanced view, and I think that the calls for resignations are totally without merit.

Angelica Schroeder:

I feel rather guilty. I’ve been out of the country for 3-1/2 weeks. I feel rather guilty, having not been here to support my colleagues. I will just say briefly that I appreciate and I agree with (inaudible), especially Teresa’s comments. This isn’t the first controversy in the last eight years. There have been a couple of other blow-ups. There are those out there who sort of help take things completely out of proportion and this is yet another one, but I am reminded this evening that as in the other blow-ups that we’ve experienced that our children are just fine. We just have to remember why we’re here and we’re here for the kids, and our kids have proved again tonight that the kids in this school district are fine. The adults probably, really need to yank things back a little bit and get some perspective, but I’m not as worried as I was when I first started hearing about this, after hearing the students this evening. So I thank all of you for taking all the heat for the last couple weeks.

And what of those high-risk kids that Ms. Steele mentioned? Ah, I guess they don’t exist.

Helayne Jones, School Board President:

. . . We had a superintendent search that has been hailed by everyone who participated in it as one of the most broad reaching and inclusive processes that has been run in this district. We gave everybody an opportunity to not only tell us what they were looking for in a leader, but to additionally have an opportunity to interview and give us feedback on each of our finalists. The Board was able to read each and every input sheet and select a superintendent that on all rankings was ranked the highest by parents in this community, by administrators, and by teachers. I’m proud that we were able once again to listen to our community and to find a leader to take the helm, in Chris King.

Dr. Garcia mentioned the awards and the recognitions teachers throughout our district have received, our administrators, and once again even our  budget has gotten an amazing award. Why do we think this happens? Because we are a school district that is focused on the needs of our children, and it’s often difficult to weigh those competing values and needs in our community. Boulder High School has been named number 168 out of the top 200 high schools in the United States. Why has that happened? Because we provide an education that teaches our students to be critical thinkers, to have academic excellence, and also as part of our 21st century graduate, to have the knowledge, skills, and characteristics to allow them to go forward in a global economy, and I think everyone on this board is very proud of it. Additionally Boulder High School was one of a handful of schools in the nation this year to receive a Grammy Award for its productions and performances in the performing arts. Why does this  happen? Because we’re a school district that values not just what’s tested on CSAP, but creating students that are well-rounded.

In the past few weeks I attended the graduation at Justice High School. We’re not just a school district that focuses on the  majority of our students. We’re a school district that focuses on the needs of all of our students. At Justice High School I saw kids who have been able to reclaim their lives, and to go forward and to graduate, and I saw their families there to  support them and celebrate. And I saw school district administrators there, because that is part of our community in that charter school. Additionally I attended the graduation at New Vista graduation. After a tough two weeks it was really nice  to be reminded of why I serve on the Boulder Valley School Board, as I watched those students parade in; as I watched them stand up on the stage and share their excitement and their optimism at going out and fixing the world that they often find adults may have not done a great job on.

On Sunday I ended my weekend at Macky Auditorium with 2500 volunteers from 17 different congregations in this community who got together for ShareFest. 2500 volunteers gave up time on their weekend to paint Boulder Valley schools. Why do they do that? Because they believe like I do that it’s a community that raises its children, and that we’re all invested in the future of our children. I was proud to be invited and the most amazing part was that as I walked out people thanked me, because they had an opportunity to volunteer in their schools. And I looked at them and I said, “No. I think you have it wrong. I thank you for caring for our community and our children.” I show my commitment to the students of this district by volunteering on the Boulder Valley School Board. I am proud to do it, and I am proud to continue to do it.

Additionally I have received a tremendous amount of e-mails from people who want to publicly support and show their support for public education, especially what’s been going on in the media. To that end I’d like to remind everybody that you have the opportunity to purchase a license plate that was started by, and sponsored by Impact On Education, and if you purchase a  license plate that supports public education, you let everyone in your community know you support it. If you do it by June 29th, you save $25. So, I’m encouraging you all to go to the Impact On Education web site, and if you’d like to publicly support your school district and show your support for public education, to please do so by buying one of these plates. . . .

As far as the Conference on World Affairs and Boulder High School, I would like to read into the record the letter that has been signed this evening by every single one of our School Board members in response to the letter we received from the Senate Minority Caucus. It’s a little lengthy so bear with me:

The Boulder Valley Board of Education received the letter signed by you and nine of your colleagues concerning a University of Colorado Conference on World Affairs panel held at Boulder High School on April 10th, 2007. This letter is our response as the elected representatives of this school district. We, too, care deeply about providing the best possible education to our children, and are proud of their accomplishments. We, like you, govern primarily by making laws, which we call policies. We expect, as you do, that these will be followed. You have asked that we “require parental approval and screening of content for all future presentations that touch on such topics.” You should know that Boulder Valley School District Board Policy INB, teaching about controversial issues, was adopted in 1987, and requires just such notification and screening, as well as other safeguards. We have determined that this policy was violated, and we have been assured that these violations will not reoccur in 2008 or beyond. Specifically, these violations were: faculty advisors did not “determine the appropriateness of the issue with respect to curriculum, course objectives, and the knowledge, maturity, and ability of our students.” Faculty did not advise the principal regarding the planned study of a controversial issue. Faculty did not “make provision for suitable instructional materials and adequate time to give reasonably thorough coverage of the topic.” Some faculty did not provide alternative projects for those students whose involvement would constitute a serious burden of conscience. Student and faculty panel advisors did not insure a balanced presentation through the careful selection of materials, guest speakers, and other instructional resources. All Boulder High School parents have received an apology from school administration concerning any student being required to attend the panel. In addition, both Superintendent George F. Garcia and Deputy Superintendent Christopher King, who will become Superintendent this summer, have made it clear that district practice and policy must be complied with for all future Conference on World Affair panels at Boulder High School. To your request that Dr. Garcia be dismissed for his handling of issues arising out of this Conference panel, we do not concur. Though each of the seven  members of the Board has his or her distinct perspective, as to the findings of Dr. Garcia’s investigation of this panel, and the actions that he has taken, we all do agree that Dr. Garcia, who retires July 31, 2007, is an excellent superintendent who deserves much credit for this district’s superior academic performance over his seven-year tenure. As to your request that the Boulder High School Principal be dismissed, we also do not concur. In the Boulder Valley School District it is the  delegated responsibility from the Board to the Superintendent to address personnel matters. On May 22nd, 2007, Dr. Garcia  reported that based upon a combination of criteria, and his belief that Board policy violation that occurred was unintentional, though serious, appropriate personnel action was taken. Each member of the Boulder Valley Board of Education is committed to educational policy-making that is in the best interest of each of our more than 28,000 students. We are  currently studying our policy to see what if anything needs to be modified or clarified before the 2007-2008 school year begins.

Sincerely, signed by the entire Board of Education of the Boulder Valley school district.

Regarding BHS’s ranking, it is worthy of note. There are 7,450 high schools in the U.S. BHS’s ranking puts it approximately in the top 2% of all high schools in the country. I appreciate the awards that BHS has received. I especially appreciated that part of Jones’s speech where she says, “We teach more than what’s on the CSAP”. So much for schools being forced to “teach to the test”. BHS is a case in point.

Patti Smith:

I just wanted to reiterate mine, and I assume all of our support for you [Helayne Jones], and for Dr. King, and for Dr. Garcia, considering all of the negative statements made about you this evening.

Helayne Jones: “Thank you”

This is as much as I was able to get for now. There’s more to this School Board meeting, the video for which has not yet been posted.

A formal letter of apology was sent home to BHS parents on June 12, 2007, by BHS Principal Bud Jenkins. The letter contains pretty much the same elements as what Helayne Jones said at this Board meeting. It’s possible that Jenkins sent out an apology to the students, within BHS, soon after the event, and the outside world just didn’t hear about it, though I think if that had occurred one of the students would have mentioned it. None of them have. I can only speculate that this is the only apology that was issued on the matter.

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