Pennridge Parents Plan To Opt Students Out Of Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum

Incorporating studies influenced by ultra-conservative politics is a step too far for some in the Pennridge community, who for months have tried everything to stop it.
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The agenda for Monday’s Pennridge Curriculum Committee meeting, posted on Friday, revealed drastic changes to instructional materials at various grade levels throughout the district.

Parents, teachers, students and taxpayers were shocked to see fully developed coursework for seventh and eighth-grade Reading/English Language Arts (RELA), along with social studies curricula for various grade levels at the elementary, middle and high school levels.

What was once conveyed as a simple “overlay” of Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum to ninth grade social studies appears to have exploded into radical changes to English and social studies course materials throughout Pennridge schools.

“The Hillsdale 1776 Curriculum fundamentally distorts modern American history into a crusade of righteous conservative patriots against heretical big-government liberals,” Sean Wilentz, a history professor at Princeton University, told The Philadelphia Inquirer earlier this year. “It has no place in any school system that values education over indoctrination.”

Ridge Network, a collective of students, parents, and community members committed to highlighting challenges affecting students and teachers in the Pennridge School District, kicked plans to mobilize against the far-right curriculum into high gear over the weekend.

In addition to encouraging public comment at Monday’s meeting, the group began circulating a form to opt students out of classes that incorporate Hillsdale 1776, along with any related materials and resources suggested by Vermilion, a consulting firm retained by the school board in April.

“Parents have a right to opt out of curriculum and that is well established in law and policies. School districts are required to establish policies that permit both curriculum review and also opt-out,” said Sharon Ward, Senior Policy Advisor at Education Law Center of Pennsylvania.

Ward went on to say that the idea that parents do not have the right to opt-out or oversee what their children are learning is a falsehood that’s been promulgated by certain ultra-conservative groups. Parents in Pennsylvania have the ability to review public school curricula as well as opt their children out of specific classes. 

“On Friday when I began to read the agenda for the August 21st Pennridge School Board Curriculum meeting I was stunned,” said local resident Ross McLennan who regularly attends school board meetings. “The changes proposed are wide ranging and very concerning.” 

McLennan questioned the timing and appropriateness of the proposed curriculum. “Why are we promoting a biased and political curriculum from a Christian college that is gaining notoriety as a tool for a right-wing takeover of America’s public schools,” he asked. “The old curriculum taught our students how to think. This Hillsdale curriculum is teaching our students what to think. They want to control the minds of our children.” 

Changes to the district’s curriculum follows the contentious retention of Jordan Adams, founder of Vermilion Education, who does not hold sufficient credentials to draft course material in the Commonwealth.

For months parents, teachers, students and residents have overwhelmingly contested bringing Hillsdale into Pennridge but those concerns have been ignored and produced no response from the school board majority. 

Monday’s Curriculum Committee agenda is also in stark contrast to progress reports and invoices submitted by Adams. A majority of the community was under the impression that the new curriculum was still in the developmental phase. 

Additionally, four board directors, Batycki, Cullen, Russell and Wurz, have been intentionally excluded from meetings with Adams and the board’s Curriculum Committee chair, Jordan Blomgren, and their questions about the district’s curricula have largely gone unanswered.

Pennridge Curriculum, Activities and Personnel Committees will meet on Monday, August 21 at 6:30 p.m., at the high school.

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Jenny Stephens

Jenny Stephens is a freelance journalist who has written for a variety of publications, including The Reporter. An avid collector of all things vintage, she resides in the Philadelphia area.

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