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Lawmaker pushes for 'curriculum transparency' in classrooms

Posted at 2:32 PM, Oct 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-20 19:51:24-04

SALT LAKE CITY — A state senator is proposing legislation that would require more transparency in what is taught in Utah classrooms.

Sen. Lincoln Fillmore, R-South Jordan, brought up the issue of "curriculum transparency" in a hearing of the Utah State Legislature's Education Interim Committee on Wednesday.

"What the legislature ought to do is create an avenue to ensure district policy and approval process is open and transparent, that allows for parental feedback on the front end rather than the back," he told the committee. "So that if there are controversial topics, parents know about that and have an opportunity to voice that at the front end, rather than the back end."

In presentation materials for the committee, there was one line that got a lot of attention. It would also "prohibit public schools, public school districts, and public school employees from forcing a student to agree with or otherwise adhere to a particular point of view on currently controversial political and social topics."

Rep. Carol Spackman Moss, D-Murray, noted how much she heard from constituents on it.

"I did get many emails on this," she said.

"Me too," said Sen. Fillmore.

"And not a single one in favor of your proposal," Rep. Moss replied.

Some members of the committee said they supported transparency, but questioned the need for it. Rep. Steve Waldrip, R-Eden, said he liked transparency in curriculum "to the extent that it's practical," noting there were copyright issues with posting curriculum online.

Rep. Karen Kwan, D-Taylorsville, questioned the idea of "opinions."

"The language here makes it sound like social science is opinion-based, which it is not. And so I think we need to be careful, when we talk about the science we are not talking about opinion-based topics," she said.

"In talking about current events or history, there’s a lot of things were opinion could come in if something was good or bad, even if the fact of it was historical and teachers should present history and fact and not insist that students or the student body hold a specific opinion," Sen. Fillmore replied.

Dr. Sydnee Dickson, the state superintendent of public instruction, told the committee that the Utah State Board of Education is transparent with parents about what is taught.

"The materials that are adopted? Certainly parents should know that, and what you’re using as a teacher, your materials, we have CANVAS and other things we’re using that make that very transparent," she said.

She told the committee they do instruct teachers to be politically neutral on sensitive subjects, and encouraged parents to talk to teachers.

"Some things that might happen in the classroom that have created some feelings or controversy, nowadays we have the technology to send a quick text or email," Dr. Dickson said.

The Utah Education Association, the state's largest teachers union, said it also supported transparency but questioned the point of the legislation.

"As a committee, I would urge you to focus on what problem it is that we’re trying to solve?" said UEA president Heidi Matthews.

But parents who testified were divided. Monica Wilbur, who said she is a parent with the Academic Integrity Movement, said teachers and schools were not being transparent about curriculum.

"We’re not seeing the transparency that a lot of professionals are claiming exist within the system. That’s a concern," she testified.

Rebecca Rider, a parent of a student in the Alpine School District, told the education committee she had good interactions with her child's teachers, including questions she had about a book offered in class.

"I just want to make sure that our educators, who are overwhelmed and overburdened, that we don’t add another thing for them to do," Rider said.

Sen. Fillmore said he would form a working group made up of lawmakers, educators and parents to discuss the issue further. Legislation may be unveiled later this year.

"I just want want to make sure that education continues to be a partnership between educators and parents and that as school districts are deciding what curriculum resources, what textbooks, what online resources are going to be available and used inside classrooms that parents have a chance to comment on those in be involved in the selection process," he told FOX 13.