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Districts must follow law giving citizens access to school curriculum

Along with ending Kentucky’s failed three-decades-long experiment giving school-based decision-making (SBDM) councils undisputed control over key areas of operation and reestablishing a chain of accountability in schools, Senate Bill 1 (SB 1) makes it clear: citizens’ voices regarding academic content must be heard.

For too long, whether those voices were paid attention to was left up to the whims of each council, many of which discouraged or in some cases silenced local citizens and even elected school board members.

Now, they have the law on their side: “The local superintendent shall determine which curriculum, textbooks, instructional materials, and student support services shall be provided in the school after consulting with the local boards of education, the school principal, the school council, and after a reasonable review and response period for stakeholders in accordance with local board of education policy.” (emphasis added)

The law does more than return control of curriculum and other critical areas of school governance, including personnel and finances, to superintendents.

It also requires superintendents, who serve at the pleasure of school board members who serve at the pleasure of local citizens, to offer “stakeholders” a chance to review and respond to proposed changes involving content and related products like textbooks. Since this is public education policy, “stakeholders” includes just about everyone.

For such meaningful input to occur, these stakeholders must have access to both current curriculum and proposed changes. Plus, SB 1 requires school boards to develop detailed policy about how this review and comment period will operate in their communities.

The development of such policy thus far appears slow in some areas and nonexistent in others.

A spot check of board-policy manuals for 40 of the state’s 171 districts filed with the Kentucky School Boards Association (KSBA), which reflect the rules localities will follow, found that most merely repeat the language of the law stated above. No indication is offered regarding what’s considered a “reasonable” public period for reviewing and responding to proposed curriculum or how concerned citizens can submit comments.

Nearly every policy manual scanned offered the confusing scenario of citing the language of the current law regarding the review and response period for stakeholders in one section while partially repeating the law in another but leaving out the all-important requirement for public input; one board’s manual included only that partial passage.

Two other manuals haven’t been revised since SB 1 became effective on July 1 with the first half of another school year almost complete. Perhaps clerical issues caused a failure to forward these districts’ changes to the KSBA; yet other districts got their updates done, even if they contained some confusion.

More important than what’s in these manuals is whether districts are working toward making the significant changes required by the new law.

SB1’s reforms are even more critical now than when its sponsor Union Republican Sen. John Schickel and other supporters of returning the governing of schools to locally elected boards and the leaders they choose since the Bluegrass Institute began working to make these critical changes several years ago.

During the intervening time, the controversy over what’s being taught in public school classrooms – whether it be regarding our nation’s history or addressing contentious gender and identity issues – has increased exponentially.

Which makes compliance with the law vital.

Districts’ governing policies need to explicitly state how citizens who fund public schools with their hard-earned tax dollars and have complaints about curriculum issues – including problematic books or questionable content coverage – will be given voice to convey those concerns.

Jim Waters is president and CEO of the Bluegrass Institute for Public Policy Solutions, Kentucky’s free-market think tank. Reach him at and @bipps on Twitter.

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