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Utah parents dispute school's use of 'democracy'

Utah parents dispute school's use of 'democracy'

Estimated read time: 3-4 minutes

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) -- A growing group of Utah County parents is challenging a school district's use of a word dating back to ancient Greece: democracy.

They say Alpine School District's usage of the word in its mission statement is historically inaccurate and an endorsement of socialist ideas.

"It would be better if their mission statement didn't have a political message in it and focus(ed) instead on academics," said Highland resident Oak Norton, a 40-year-old accountant who founded Utah's Republic, a group petitioning the State Office of Education to place a greater emphasis in school curriculum on a "proper constitutional education."

Some parents are calling for the district to scrap its phrase, "Educating all students to ensure the future of our democracy" in favor of wording that reflects the country's history as a republic.

The statement has been around for five years and rising frustration with the federal government could be behind some of the complaints, said school district spokeswoman Rhonda Bromley.

"People are getting caught up on that word, but it's not a political statement," Bromley said.

After recent board meetings in which parents laid out their position, Bromley said the board will reevaluate the statement this summer. Bromley said that even if it replaces or reworks the wording, the school won't abandon its core values.

"It would be better if their mission statement didn't have a political message in it and focus(ed) instead on academics," said Highland resident Oak Norton.

"A lot of people just say just change the word democracy to republic. But as far as the focus, that's not going to change," Bromley said.

That focus, however, is what some parents say they had a problem with in the first place.

The disagreement started when Susan Schnell, 46, was visiting the district's professional development center in early February regarding the home schooling of her daughter. She came across a banner-size slogan reading: "Enculturating the young into a social and political democracy." The sentence is one of the district's four tenets embodying its educational mission.

"The statement made my eyebrows rise because 'enculturating' is not a word that is commonly used and I had to look it up in three different dictionaries to find it," Schnell said.

The combination of words in the sentence didn't sit well with her.

"What happened to raising good citizens? That's not what that said. And when you look up social democracy, that's kind of scary," Schnell said.

She started exploring the school district's Web site, where she came across the democracy-driven mission statement as well as a link to an essay entitled, "America: Republic or Democracy?" In it the author refers to the founding fathers as "predatory elite," which Schnell found offensive.

Schnell sent out a few e-mails and the subject quickly went viral, with parents showing up at school board meetings in droves. The district has since removed the link.

Schnell said she's not nitpicking over semantics, but simply wants the district to pick more neutral language.

"My higher purpose is for this district not to put up a politically charged mission statement or motto."

(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

Joseph Freeman Writer


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