District should not censor curricula

no pictureThe recent suspension of the very popular race and gender curriculum taught by
Jon Greenberg of the Center School after a parent complaint has revealed a number of
disappointing failures by the district, as well as by new superintendent Jose Banda. First, while
the bylaws are confusing, it’s apparent that Banda overstepped his authority in suspending
Greenberg’s curriculum.
Seattle School Board member Michael DeBell told the Sentinel that “one of the
responsibilities of the superintendent is to ensure safe and healthy, and hopefully engaging
and productive, schools,” and that if these conditions are not being met, “the superintendent
can, and should intervene.” Yet nowhere in the official “Responsibilities and Authority of the
Superintendent” document on the SPS site does it say he can do that, much less on those
specific grounds, while the complaint is under investigation. Additionally, teachers are granted
academic freedom in their collective bargaining agreement, which would imply they have full
authority to teach what they want and in a manner of their choosing. What’s more mystifying is
why the district didn’t follow the proper procedure for investigating cases such as this.
The superintendent says that the complaint was brought to the district and had to do with
intimidation and discrimination which are violations of Board policies 3207 and 3210. But both
those policies require the investigation to include “discussions with other students or adults who
may have knowledge of the alleged incident.” Guess what: not a single student was interviewed.
Instead the superintendent convened an ad hoc committee, but didn’t follow the procedure for
that either. Because the committee was made up of both students and parents, it is considered
an advisory committee according to official district literature, which is governed by Policy 4110
and Procedure 4110 SP, both of which require minutes to be taken, open meetings to be held,
and a number of other procedures to be carried out which simply weren’t. More absurdly, both
the race and the gender units were suspended even though the gender unit had not yet begun.
All of this begs the question: how are we as students expected to follow district rules and
procedures when the district that made them doesn’t even bother to follow them?
To add insult to injury, Banda reinstated the curriculum of the class without Greenberg’s
modified Courageous Conversations content – a curriculum which was originally developed
for adults to explore race and gender and which Greenberg borrowed to supplement his own
teaching. It encourages participants to speak their mind, “experience discomfort,” and “expect
and accept non-closure,” and is used by many school districts throughout the country. Banda
said it was not age appropriate for Greenbergs class. But avoiding material that is difficult
to deal with on the grounds that students in Seattle Public Schools can’t handle it sends the

wrong message to students. As Center School Humanities teacher Gerardine Caroll notes, race
curriculum is supposed “to make students feel uncomfortable,” which is precisely the reason
“we don’t talk about race.” On numerous education related blogs class alumni have testified to
the profound impact Yet what is most concerning about this whole ordeal is not the districts
hypocritical disregard for procedure, the suspension of curriculum that students in the class
found so necessary that they actually met during lunch to discuss it, or even the elimination of
Courageous Conversations curriculum – but the fact that one parent’s complaint could cause it
all.
We don’t reject the premise that you should be able to air your grievances, just that one
complaint, from one individual, should be able to have such a profound impact on our district,
and what is taught. We need to have difficult discussions and explore difficult and offensive
material . One individual’s sensitivities shouldn’t stop the rest of us from doing so.


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