Carlsbad Municipal Schools sent the New Mexico Public Education Department a letter asking for the removal of controversial topics from its proposed social studies curriculum.
The letter urged the department to reconsider the inclusion of police brutality, gun violence and systemic oppression from the state's proposed curriculum.
In December the New Mexico PED's educator writing committee reconvened to develop revisions to the proposed curriculum based on public comment, according to the department's website.
The Carlsbad School District also requested the omission of language related to racism, sexuality and self-identity and asked for the removal of the only mentions of antisemitism and homophobia in the curriculum.
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CMS Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jennifer Timme said the district received suggestions from teachers throughout the district. She said the recommended changes were put together by a curriculum and instruction team populated by teachers.
Timme said that while none of the teachers on the team taught social studies at the time the recommendations were created, they have had experience teaching it in the past.
School officials said the majority of changes CMS requested were to ensure students' expectations matched other subjects within their grade level.
Cottonwood Elementary School teacher Nancy Johnson said while she understood why the district may want controversial topics removed from the curriculum, she felt they were included in the original proposal because they represented part of our national history.
Cottonwood Elementary School Teacher Nancy Johnson spoke with the Carlsbad Municipal School Board on Dec. 14, 2021.
Johnson was a part of PED's Social Studies Curriculum Committee and helped write the standards for elementary school students.
"There are going to be some topics that you can’t teach unless you mention those things. They’re very uncomfortable topics and of course, we expect that our families will be talking about these things at home but that's not true in this day and age," Johnson said.
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She said including topics like sexuality can also help students feel included.
“There have been so many changes in student dynamics. We have a lot of LGBT students and if we don’t include everybody then that group gets left out,” Johnson said.
The proposed standards included the addition of ethnic, cultural and identity studies in accordance with the 2018 Yazzie-Martinez lawsuit which required the state to provide a culturally and linguistically responsive education.
The lawsuit found that the state of New Mexico did not provide at-risk students — such as English learners, Native American students and children with disabilities —with adequate education, according to the final decision and order.
The last time New Mexico's social studies standards were overhauled was in 2001 before major world events such as 9/11, the Great Recession and the Afghan War.
Changes and expectations
Johnson said the final curriculum will still include some of the controversial topics CMS asked to remove and will outline how to cover them in a non-biased way.
"We wanted to ensure that if it’s going to be part of the curriculum that it’s covered in a manner that is appropriate and in context to history," Johnson said. "Our teachers are going to have to be very, very careful with the topics and how they present them and keep an open mind and keep their opinion out of it, really."
Students at Carlsbad Early College High School work during Grace Nwanne's fifth period class.
Timme said that despite the District's request to remove the subjects considered controversial, she still expects teachers to discuss these topics.
"Typically standards are written as a matter of succinct, concise statements that then, through the lessons and the approach in the classroom you still end up covering all those things," Timme said. "We certainly want to rely on the training of teachers and the passing of the test that they take for their content."
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The district asked to remove two sections in the high school curriculum because they were related to current events.
The sections asked students to "explore the movement against police brutality," and "examine the history of guns in America as compared to other world powers and the consequences of gun violence on American society past, present and future."
Timme said the district felt these topics would still be discussed but does not expect students to show "mastery" of them.
Controversy over critical race theory
Public officials, including newly elected school board members Clancey McMillan and Tom Hollis, claimed the updated curriculum was "laden" with critical race theory (CRT).
“It's a theory and I’m 100% against it. It has no place in a K-12 environment," Hollis said during a public forum in October 2021. "You are going to have teachers that sit on different sides of the fence that are going to be teaching a class in different ways. That does no good for our students."
Clancey McMillan, Robbie Chacon, Tiffany Shirley and Dr. Gerry Washburn at a school board meeting on Jan. 3, 2022.
CRT is used by scholars and researchers to examine major systems in society and marginalized groups and is normally studied at the college level.
PED officials, including Deputy Secretary Gwen Perea Warniment, have said CRT has no place in K-12 education and will not be included in the updated social studies standards.
During her campaign for the school board, McMillan spoke out about her concerns with the new social studies curriculum.
Discussions about race and police brutality following the death of George Floyd sparked a national debate over CRT. Texas and Florida are among states that have proposed legislature meant to ban critical race theory from K-12 education.
McMillan said she sent CMS Superintendent Dr. Gerry Washburn a five-page email pointing out what she claimed was CRT in the curriculum, during a public forum in October 2021.
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McMillan told the Current-Argus she was concerned about some of the topics the district requested to remove or alter such as race and police brutality.
"I'm not against teaching about racism and slavery. I strongly believe those are things that we need to be educating their children on so but there were just some that felt like they could be open to interpretation based on who was teaching it," McMillan said.
"We’re starting with teaching 5-year-olds to identify differences between themselves. From there I feel like it gets more and more divisive," McMillan added. "Five-year-olds don’t pick up differences as far as skin color... Kids that age don’t grasp that level of understanding at that point."
McMillan was referring to a section in the proposed curriculum that asked kindergarten students to "describe ways they are similar and different from people who share their identities, and people who do not."
“When we talk about identity, we're not talking about race and skin color and things of that nature," Johnson said. "We're just talking about, you know, this is who I am, this is what I believe, this is how I celebrate my holidays and this is what my family traditions are. Things of that nature."
The PED expects to release the updated standards in February, according to its website.
A full copy of CMS's proposed revisions to the social studies standards can be found below.
Claudia Silva is a reporter from the UNM Local Reporting Fellowship. She can be reached at [email protected], by phone at 575-628-5506 or on Twitter @thewatchpup.
This article originally appeared on Carlsbad Current-Argus: CMS wants controversial language removed from social studies standards