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Woodland Park School District set to adopt new policy giving parents more say in curriculum

WOODLAND PARK, Colo. (KRDO) -- Woodland Park School District Re-2 is in the process of adopting new policies when it comes to 'controversial' topics in the classroom. The district says they want to accommodate parents while protecting teachers at the same time.

At the school board's direction, Woodland Park's Superintendent and other staff were tasked with updating the District's policies when it comes to 'controversial' topics.

According to a draft of the potential policy, the district's definition for controversial material can include sexual conduct, graphic violence, profanity, and any 'material that may be polarizing or likely to divide the community along racial, ethnic, or religious lines.'

The district plans to adopt a new 'opt-in/opt out' plan for parents when controversial topics are included in the curriculum. Woodland Park's Superintendent Dr. Mathew Neal says the district already had a version of this policy, but it was never this "expansive."

Neal explained the change is modeled after policies adopted by other districts across the state.

"We have an opt-out option that parents can choose out of that (controversial) subject, and an alternative learning task can be given to each student in that process," Dr. Neal said. "Parents can make the choice if that is a topic they consider to be sensitive or not." 

Woodland Park's newly elected School Board President David Rusterholtz said updating the school district's policies for sensitive subjects is a top priority for him.

“The primary things parents are concerned about is what is being taught in school,” Rusterholtz told 13 Investigates when asked about what sparked the desire for a new policy.  

Some parents, however, tell 13 Investigates they fear the district is undercutting their own student's education.

“Everything can be controversial. If a teacher, student, or a school has to address everything that is controversial there will never be any teaching done,” said Erin O'Connell, a mother of three Woodland Park School District students.

O'Connell fears the school board's new policy will only serve to box in teachers and subsequently hurt her children's education.

“The board is saying they want to review anything that can be controversial, which puts a huge burden on the teachers, and what that shows is they have no faith in their teaching staff,” O'Connell said.

Dr. Neal claims the new policy had input from teachers and Woodland Park educators and is designed to protect teachers. Under the new policy, Neal says teachers are still permitted to bring forth sensitive topics in the classroom with approval from their principals or in certain cases the parents.  

"A teacher does have the autonomy to speak their mind. They have the right to give their political opinion," Neal said. "They do not have the right to convince a student of that opinion."

Neal plans to publish the new policy in the coming days, but it won't be implemented until the following school year.

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Dan Beedie


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