September 29, 2014 / 7:05 PM / in 5 years

Teacher 'sick-outs' stop classes at two protest-hit Colorado schools

DENVER (Reuters) - Teachers calling in absent forced the cancellation of classes at two Colorado high schools on Monday in a new twist to a dispute over pay and proposed changes to a history curriculum that has drawn national attention.

Hundreds of students walked out of nearly all the Jefferson County School District’s 17 high schools last week in demonstration against the curriculum change idea being floated by a conservative school board majority.

A spokeswoman for the suburban Denver district said nearly 75 percent of teachers at Jefferson High School, and 81 percent at Golden High, either called in sick or used personal days on Monday, forcing officials to close the schools.

Two other high schools were closed on September 19 due to a high number of teacher absences.

While the teachers’ union is upset with a new merit pay compensation package, last week’s walkouts by placard-waving student were triggered by the proposal from the five-member school board to change elements of the district’s advance placement history classes.

The proposed changes would discourage civil disobedience and promote the benefits of the free enterprise system, as well as “positive aspects of the United States and its heritage,” board member Julie Williams said last week.

The College Board’s Advanced Placement program responded in a statement that if a school or district “censors essential concepts” of its courses, it can no longer use the advanced placement designation.

School board president Ken Witt said last week that the history curriculum changes are not final, and he blamed the teachers’ union for urging young people to walk out of class, which he called “the manipulation of our students.”

Jefferson County is Colorado’s second-largest school district with 84,000 students.

Last week the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office said it was investigating alleged threats made to a school board member’s child in connection with the protests, but declined to identify the board member of give any other details.

Reporting by Keith Coffman; Editing by Daniel Wallis and Mohammad Zargham

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