Randall said American Birthright was inspired by state standards in Massachusetts and Florida. The group received contributions from dozens of right-wing groups and activists, including the Claremont Institute, the Family Research Council, and Moms for Liberty. Randall sees it as a bipartisan alternative to coursework that he described as hijacked by liberal concepts. Critics, however, say that he is skewed to the right; for example, he includes the impeachment of Bill Clinton but not that of Donald Trump.
The Colorado State Board of Education rejected American Birthright in October. The National Council for Social Studies, a professional trade group for educators, issued a rare warning against using it.
“They’re trying to push a certain agenda on these kids,” Amy Schommer, a Woodland Park parent, said of the school board’s adoption of American Birthright. “I’m a conservative, but I’m not against my kids learning something they don’t agree with. They are trying to solve problems that don’t exist here.»
The district’s adoption of American Birthright had immediate consequences for an elective class called «Civil Disobedience.» Graf, the English teacher, had created the class in 2015 to trace protest movements like Black Lives Matter to the founding of the United States.
Five days after the board approved American Birthright, a childless community member complained to Witt about «civil disobedience» and accused Graf of using Ta-Nehisi Coates’ «Between the World and Me,» about growing up black in America. — as an “indoctrination tool,” according to emails obtained through open records requests.
A week later, Graf read in The Pikes Peak Messenger that Witt had decided that Coates’s book would no longer be used because it did not conform to American Birthright. Graf said no one from the administration spoke to her about how she taught the class.
Graf resigned last month. “They are taking away autonomy from teachers, limiting the scope for controversial and free-thinking discussions that I think are age appropriate,” he said, “especially for 16, 17 and 18-year-olds, who are about to get out there and experience what it’s like to be an adult.»
Several more high school teachers have resigned this year, citing the board as the reason, according to interviews and copies of resignation letters reviewed by NBC News. However, some in the community saw this as a good thing.
“I feel like if they leave, it’s because they have an agenda,” said Deborah Bruner, a Woodland Park grandmother. «My impression is that this board will hold teachers accountable for what they teach and teach the truth.»
a contentious meeting
When Witt arrived at Gateway Elementary School on March 2 to meet with staff, emotions were running high.
Teachers had heard that Witt was questioning the need for mental health support for students, and they were concerned.
During the meeting, Witt did not commit to keeping the same number of counselors and social workers for the next school year. She said her focus was on «academic success,» according to recordings obtained by NBC News.
Staff members tried to explain why addressing students’ emotional issues was essential for them to learn. An employee mentioned recent family homicides in the community as an example of the type of trauma children face, including a murder-suicide that left a student dead.