in spite of positive reviews by staff at CCSD, parents voice concern over materials and curriculum introduced in schools

PMG FILE PHOTO - Elementary students from Steins Pillar work with City of Prineville Engineers on creating Mallard nests for the Crook River Wetlands Complex.As new curriculum adoption begins at Crook County schools, the same is also taking place around the state in other districts.

The choice of curriculum and school textbooks and library materials is often a polarized topic throughout not just Oregon, but the entire country. Parents have questions and concerns, and school districts in Oregon have mandates handed down from the Oregon Department of Education.

Some concerns, which have come to light recently over materials available to Steins Pillar students at the Crook County Public Library, included books that covered topics on gender and sexual identity. These concerns are also reflected from some Crook County parents on the new curriculum adopted for CCSD, with additional questions on the potential presence of Critical Race Theory (CRT) and Social and Emotional Learning.

Stacy Smith, curriculum director for CCSD, recently addressed concerns and broke down the new curriculum at both the grade school level and the secondary level.

He clarified what Social Emotional Learning means through a school district lens.

"When I have conversations with people, Social Emotional Learning (SEL) for us, in education, is not a bad thing, it's a good thing," he said.

He added that Social Emotional Learning helps students to thrive in school settings and provides support when they need it.

"We have learned kids can't learn if they are hungry or being abused or suffering from bullying or harassment. When we arm kids with social emotional learning, we support them and their success in school," he continued.

Smith noted that the district just approved the Wit & Wisdom reading curriculum for this next fall for elementary, by the publisher of Great Minds, Nancy Zuckerbrod. He added that they are paying teachers in elementary level throughout the summer to train them on the new curriculum.

The district recently provided an open forum for a review of the new elementary reading curriculum.

"We are just continuing to work hard and trying to get better at everything we do," Smith said. "The parent surveys on how they feel about the schools are going out, and what we can do better."

He said that they also poll their staff on how they are feeling, as these have been challenging times.

"What areas could the district be better, so we are continuing to focus on improvement. Our goal is to be the best."

Trying to meet mandates and manage the political environment is often a challenge for public school administrators. Local parents have voiced concerns about what is being taught in the classroom, and what is in the curriculum at all levels.

Cheyenne Edgerly is a local parent of six children, four of them in the school district. She has voiced her concerns of the process of accessing lesson plans and books utilized in the classroom.

"My biggest concern for the curriculum that they adopted is the integration of social-emotional learning, which is critical race theory, and they are focused on the LGBTQ agenda," Edgerly contended.

She feels that the content of concern is within the curriculum and tied into stories and problems. Edgerly would like to see more opportunities to access the textbooks, library books and teacher lessons plans.

Smith noted that for many parents, the Critical Race Theory (CRT) is a catchall for many beliefs that they are against in the school system. He said that although some groups believe that Critical Race Theory, Character Strong and SEL are all related, education does not see it that way. He emphasized that they see it (SEL) as providing support to students so they can learn.

At the Oregon Department of Education (ODE) level, there have also been questions by parents and communities throughout the state on the guidance on when students learn about gender identity or sexual orientation. Marc Siegel, Communications Director for ODE, gave some insight from the ODE requirements on Oregon's Human Sexuality Education Law OAR 581-022-2050. The Div 22 Report on Compliance with Public Standards is found on the CCSD school district website.

In response to the question of gender identity and sexual orientation, Siegel said, "Gender identity and expression is a topic that may come up in multiple classes and school contexts, including in the required Health Education Standards and Performance Indicators. It may also come up in Social Science classrooms as part of Ethics Studies Standards, as well as in other school activities outside of class."

Oregon's Human Sexuality Education Law requires that comprehensive sexuality education be taught from kindergarten through 12th grade. Instruction must "use inclusive materials, language and strategies that recognize different sexual orientations, gender identities and gender expression," added Siegel.

Beyond teaching health communication, Siegel added that boundary setting, emotional literacy and sexuality education must also include content identity, gender expression and sexual orientation to ensure LGBTQ2SIA+ inclusion. These requirements are included in the grade-specific Oregon Health Education Standards and Performance Indicators for grades K-12.

While school districts face scrutiny in materials and curriculum, they are also focused on adopting curriculum that is effective in addressing the science of reading. This is the case in all parts of the state, as well as CCSD.

According to Courtney Vaughan, editor/reporter for Portland Tribune, while school districts across the nation are facing increasing scrutiny over school materials and books that some parents don't agree with, Portland's was a different issue: whether it actually works.

Portland Public Schools is one of many school districts that previously used the Units of Study curriculum, developed by renowned learning expert Lucy Calkins. Many districts, including Portland Public Schools (PPL), are moving away from Calkins's method after research concluded that it may not be effective at teaching children, particularly those learning English and how to read.

Research reviewers suggested the curriculum lacked enough emphasis on phonics skills and noted that some children who need extra help would likely struggle with the framework. Crook County schools, in addition to PPL and many other Oregon school districts, have adopted the English Language Arts curriculum called Wit & Wisdom. It's the same one used by Eugene, Tillamook and North Wasco school districts.

Nancy Zuckerbrod of Great Minds, the publisher of Wit & Wisdom, told staff at the Portland Tribune that students and teachers should expect "a more systematic emphasis on explicit phonics instruction and the development of deep background and content knowledge about subjects like science, social studies and art within the literacy classroom."

Smith went on to say, "The strength of this curriculum is that it is true to what we call the science of reading. We know more about how students learn to read than we did 10 years ago," concluded Smith.

He noted that their teachers have been doing book studies on the science of reading for the past two years, in order to increase students' outcomes in literacy — both reading and writing.

In the secondary level, the CCSD has also adopted Study Synk, which is published by McGraw Hill. Secondary level includes content area instructors, unlike elementary.

"At the middle and high school, we have specific language arts teachers. There are six at the middle and six at the high school, and independent of each other, they both went through all the samples of curriculum, and both selected the same publisher and curriculum as their first choice," expressed Smith. He noted that the strong writing component was a large factor in the choice.

Smith concluded that there is a link for resources and class materials for parents at the district website: Go to resources, parents, academic resources, CCSD curriculum questions. Parents can choose by grade level and teacher name. Academic materials are available on the site.

Smith said that there is a process for concerns on materials or course content.

"In that case, you start with the teacher," Smith said. He emphasized that the first avenue is to seek understanding.

"If you can't reach understanding, parents have the right to request an alternative assignment that they don't have any problems with."

If they still find the material objectionable, there is a path for objecting to materials in the CCSD board policies.

"At that point, it goes classroom teacher, principal and then to the district office. Then we will help walk parents through the process for objecting materials."

He concluded that the process for a library book would be similar, except the parent would start with the librarian. Library books can also be looked up on the CCSD library database.

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