Colorado Board of Education debates what to teach fourth-graders about guns – The Denver Post

Could Colorado’s standards for health lessons for its fourth-graders be biased against guns?

That’s what some members of the Colorado State Board of Education believe, and although their concerns didn’t prevail at a board meeting Wednesday, it all made for a provocative discussion.

Joyce Rankin, a Republican from Carbondale, got the conversation started by criticizing as too negative a section explaining the potential dangers of weapons at home, in school and in the community. She wanted to add a discussion about the benefits of using guns for self-defense.

But activists, concerned parents, and a 12-year-old Denver student and her little sister criticized Rankin’s proposal before the board’s debate about how much elementary-aged kids should learn about guns in school.

“I’m confused,” said the student, Haven Coleman. “Schools already tell kids guns are bad, but now they want to tell us guns can be good in a conflict? What are we supposed to do? Bring a gun to school if we’re being bullied? And why are we telling fourth-graders this?”

Haven’s 9-year-old sibling, Anna, stood next to her. “It makes me scared to even go to fourth grade,” Anna said. “Because what if the drills are real? It isn’t OK.”

After the scathing public comment and a negative response from the board’s Comprehensive Health and Physical Education Standards Revision Committee, Rankin agreed that talking about guns in terms of self-defense was not age-appropriate for fourth-graders. Her proposed amendment did not move forward.

About 100 pages of fourth-grade health standards were approved, including the section in question that focuses on violence-free relationships. Students are expected to demonstrate conflict-resolution techniques, describe situations that lead to violence and explain positive alternatives to violence, including the controversial line: “Explain the potential dangers of having weapons at home, in school, and in the community.”

Rankin still felt the standard was biased against guns.

“I believe our document as it’s written puts fear in classrooms,” Rankin said. “I heard it today, and I’ve heard it from teachers — the fear. We need to make children feel safe, and talking about dangers and negative things will only bring more fear into the classroom.”

However, the board’s health committee did revise the standard based on public input that came in the winter. Now, the updated standard includes the following guidance for teachers to consider during the risk management lesson: “How can the use of guns and other weapons be positive?”

Melisa Siegel, who has taught fourth and fifth grade in Denver Public Schools, described the proposed amendment and the revision as propaganda from the National Rifle Association.

“This could not display a more willful blind eye to gun violence,” Siegel said. “Students need exactly the opposite. You should be ashamed of this preposterous language that has been incorporated.”

One other board member agreed with Rankin.

Debora Scheffel, a Republican from Parker, also expressed concern during last month’s board meeting that children were hearing bias against guns.

“I didn’t like the language,” Scheffel said. “It talked merely about the negative impact. Obviously, we’ve had horrific school shootings and terrible things happening, but I do think we shouldn’t have biased language in here that doesn’t recognize that also self-defense is an important aspect.”

While the state sets standards that act as broad guidance for teachers, Floyd Cobb, the state education department’s executive director of teaching and learning, said how teachers implement those standards in the classroom depends entirely on school districts.

“The geography of Colorado,” Cobb said, “would make that lesson look different depending on where the school is.”

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