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Seattle schools chief reinstates suspended curriculum on race

Gabriel Spitzer

Seattle Public Schools is reinstating a high school curriculumon race and social justice after suspending it over a student’s complaint, but the controversy is likely to continue.

Jon Greenberg’s Citizenship and Social Justice class at Center School takes up race, gender and power, and by all accounts can open up uncomfortable conversations. For one student, that discomfort escalated into a perception of intimidation, and his or her complaint led district officials to put the curriculum on hold.

That ended with a letter from Superintendent Jose Banda. He is reinstating the course, with a few changes: portions of the coursework taken from adult training materials are to be replaced with “age-appropriate” content. Banda also wants parents to be notified before the class tackles sensitive materials, and students given alternatives. Greenberg has said he already does those things.

The whole process has inflamed passions, as students came out in force to defend their teacher. Senior Zak Meyer helped organize them, and he said students are withholding judgment on the district’s actions.

“You know, I think they’re excited that the curriculums’ s back. It’s a huge part of our senior year. But I think they want to know what’s being kept and what’s not," Meyer said.

Meanwhile the district is getting heat over how they’ve handled the matter, such as suspending the curriculum before it got its day in court. Center School humanities teacher Gerardine Carroll said it’s created a chilling effect for teachers.

“Do I sort of shy away from topics that students may become intimidated by? And that’s just not the way we should be operating, out of this atmosphere of, oh gosh, I hope no one brings the hammer down on me for this one,” Carroll said.

Carroll added that she believes academic freedom is at stake, which is supposed to be guaranteed under the teachers' contract with the district.

Shauna Heath heads Curriculum and Instruction for the district, and she defends what she called the “very thoughtful” approach to weighing a complaint .She says they followed established procedure to the letter – though on that point, some Center School teachers remain unconvinced.

Gabriel Spitzer is a former KNKX reporter, producer and host who covered science and health and worked on the show Sound Effect.