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Split U-46 vote supports use of online resource

By Seth Hancock
  The Board of Education in School District U-46 approved, via a split vote, a $48,676 expenditure with Learning A to Z for a supplemental online resource at its meeting on Monday, Oct. 1.
  The vote was 4-2, board members Phil Costello and Jeanette Ward voting no while John Devereux was absent. Ward said the resource was “riddled” with one-sided materials on controversial issues.
  The resource will be paid for by the nation’s taxpayers through Title I funds and the purchase was for 15 Title I schools that “budgeted for online access to the Learning A to Z platforms as part of their Title I budget plans,” the proposal stated.
  “Learning A to Z includes leveled readers which can be printed and sent home and online resources in English and Spanish,” the proposal adds. “This will increase student access to leveled text.”
  Ward expressed her opposition to the resource prior to the meeting with multiple social media posts with examples of biased materials on climate change and religious matters.
  Resident Tina Rio spoke during public comments agreeing with Ward’s stance saying “I don’t think you’re providing the kids a good service by teaching them one-sided curriculum” and added that U-46 should seek resources that are “more inclusive so they can think more critically for themselves.”
  Ward said: “The curriculum resource Learning A to Z presents anthropogenic global warming as undisputed fact…. There are serious and credible scientific debates on this topic. Scientists, and there are plenty, who disagree with anthropogenic climate change are not flat-earthers as some would suggest. Students ought to be presented with the evidence and discussion on both sides of this issue.”
  A booklet titled “Holidays Around the World” is included in the resource that Ward said does not mention the birth of Jesus Christ in its portion on Christmas and does not mention the Easter holiday, but it does include holidays from other religions such as the Muslim holiday of Ramadan.
  Trisha Shrode, director of curriculum and instruction, later said that booklet “wasn’t a deep introspective review of holidays from a religious standpoint but was about traditions” and said the holidays represented were from November to March which is why Easter wouldn’t be included. Easter generally falls in April but has fallen in March as well.
  The resource also included a text on Saladin, a Muslim military leader in the 12th century, which Ward said presents a biased view of Islam. Ward, on social media, included a refutation to the Saladin text from Sandra Alfonsi who Ward said has multiple degrees, including a PhD from Catholic University of America in French and languages, and “she has spent the past 25 years reviewing, correcting and vetting US textbooks.”
  Alfonsi wrote: “It is my opinion that the article ‘Saladin’ is a deceptively innocuous text that misleads students and indoctrinates them. It uses Saladin, the ‘bigger than life’ Islamic warrior to whitewash Islam, eliminating all traces of Jihad and also Shari’a Law.”
  Board member Melissa Owens asked for an overview of Learning A to Z which Shrode said it’s a supplemental resource “to bring the curriculum to life.”
  Shrode said there are over 3,500 titles included in the resource, which she later admitted there has likely been no “exhaustive review” by anyone in U-46 of all of the titles, and she said its most often used in the district for “access to additional print material in Spanish” for “extra practice.” Shrode said the resource has never gone in front of an instructional council.
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said parent groups and other schools in the district have purchased the resource for their school.
  Regarding the Saladin text, Owens called it a “50,000-foot level story” and “I’m not clear how reading something at a 50,000-foot level that isn’t designed to be a detailed analysis of a historical figure, I’m not sure how that qualifies as indoctrinating a child.”
  Owens added: “Words matter. We have a significant number of students in this district that are from the Islamic faith. I want you all to know that you are valued, you are fully welcomed here and that you all deserve the utmost respect regarding your family, your culture and your belief system.”
  Regarding climate change theories, Owens said students should be presented with one-sided resources: “We need to put this concept out there because this is what the scientific consensus says. There is not a national body or an international scientific body that opposes anthropogenic climate change theory.”
  Ward later said “taxpayers are still paying for these resources” and “the relevant facts regarding Saladin are biased and incorrect.” She said her “biggest objection” was “the plethora of anthropogenic global warming resources” which she said there were at least 20 to 30 titles of one-sided resources on that subject.
  “There is no consensus,” Ward said. “The scientists do not agree. The 97 percent scientists agree is a complete farce. It’s not true at all. We ought to be presenting both sides.”
  The “97 percent” claim stems from a 2013 study by Australian scientist John Cook of just under 12,000 peer-reviewed papers which Cook concluded “97 percent” say “humans are responsible” for global warming.
  The Cook finding has been widely disputed, even among many of the scientists included in the study who have said their papers were misrepresented by Cook. David Legates, a professor at University of Delaware where he previously headed the Center for Climatic Research, reviewed the same papers from Cook’s study and found at that only 1 percent of the 4,014 papers that expressed an opinion came to the conclusion that Cook came to.
  Owens did not provide a standard for what a scientific body is, but the Oregon Institute of Science and Medicine has a petition signed by over 31,000 scientists which states: “There is no convincing scientific evidence that human release of carbon dioxide, methane, or other greenhouse gases is causing or will, in the foreseeable future, cause catastrophic heating of the earth’s atmosphere and disruption of the earth’s climate. Moreover, there is substantial scientific evidence that increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide produce many beneficial effects upon the natural plant and animal environments of the earth.”
  Ward has on multiple occasions voted against curriculum and resource proposals that she’s called biased. Costello has occasionally joined Ward in voting no but more often has voted yes on such proposals as he said he tends to “remove myself from these discussions” because he trusts those choosing the resources, but “what I find a little concerning… is the balance.”
  “I appreciate that we have many different students of different backgrounds and we must respect all backgrounds, not just some and not just others, all backgrounds,” said Costello who noted that Ward’s and Rio’s opposition shows that maybe not all backgrounds are being respected.
  Costello asked how this resource presents a balance and Shrode said it’s a “pretty broad representation of non-fiction and fiction” texts at all levels.



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