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School Board Members at Center of AP History Flap Are Target of Recall Effort

UPDATED

Remember the protests and walkouts in Jefferson County, Colo., schools last year after some school board members sought to change how AP U.S. History was taught?

Well, it looks like the school board members who pushed for the changes to downplay negative aspects of American history are headed for a recall.

The Jefferson County clerk this week said that Jeffco United for Action, a group of parents and teachers who have been gunning to oust Republican board members Ken Witt, Julie Williams, and John Newkirk, had collected enough valid signatures to force a recall election against them.

The three board members were elected with overwhelming margins in 2013 on a ticket that promised to curb spending and expand school choice in the district, which is Colorado's second largest after Denver.

Since then, their critics charged that they have engaged in a number of actions to push a conservative political agenda, including their efforts to create a committee to review the AP U.S. History curriculum with a view toward removing items they deemed objectionable. The critics also allege that the board members engaged in inappropriate spending and violated the state's open public meetings law. 

According to The Denver Post, Jeffco United for Action collected 34,188 valid signatures to recall Newkirk; 33,900 to recall Williams; and 33,942 to recall Witt.

Residents have 15 days to challenge the signatures, but Chalkbeat Colorado is reporting that Witt and Newkirk are asking residents not to challenge the petitions.

The recall could be held as early as the November general election.  So far, only one person, former board member Paula Noonan, has filed paperwork to run as a challenger in the recall, according to Chalkbeat Colorado. [UPDATE: The website also reported late Thursday that three candidates announced plans to run as a slate against Williams, Newkirk, and Witt. The challengers, according to Chalkbeat, were: Brad Rupert, a lawyer; Susan Harmon, a parent and PTA member; and Ron Mitchell, a former principal in the district.]

The recall battle could be a bruising one. The Independence Institute, a libertarian-leaning group, has set up a website to challenge the claims made by Jeffco United for Action, according to Chalkbeat.  

The revised AP U.S. History framework was released in 2014 and was met with pushback in conservative circles for allegedly being left-learning and not focusing enough on "American exceptionalism."

The College Board, which administers the AP U.S. History course and threw its support behind the Jeffco student protests last year, has since revised the course's framework. While the revision addresses some of the concerns raised by conservatives, it is still stirring debate.  My colleague Liana Heitin recently reported on the changes.  

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