With the start of school looming near, school officials are faced with a lawsuit, and the uncertainty of which curriculum will be used to teach Llano students.
After months of back and forth, Senator Dan Patrick put an end to CSCOPE in May of this year, banning the curriculum from use by the more than 70 percent of Texas schools that rely on the program; the ban would become effective August 31.
Opponents of the program assumed that was the end of the controversial teaching aid.
The ban, coupled with Senate Bill 1406, which requires that online curriculum be approved using the same process as text books, made it appear as if CSCOPE was gone - until lawyers for the State Board of Education found that there was nothing in state law that prohibited the decidely public domain curriculum, and the fact that state law prohibits the state from telling school districts what curriculum to follow.
When Llano ISD Superintendent Casey Callahan made the announcement that Llano teachers would be allowed to use the curriculum if they so chose, six Llano taxpayers decided to try and stop them.
Their efforts led them to State District Judge Dan Mills, who signed a temporary restraining order against the school, effectively stopping the use of CSCOPE for at least 14 days until an injunction hearing can be held.
On Monday, Llano attorney Tim Cowart announced in a press conference at the Texas Senate press room, that he represented the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, which calls for the halt of use until the program is approved by the State Board of Education as pursuant to Section 31.022 of the Texas Education Code. Those represented by Cowart in the lawsuit include Bill Hussey, Leticia McCasland, David Hussey, Julie Schmidt, Trevor Dupuy and Thomas Allen.
State District Judge Dan Mills signed the 14-day restraining order on Friday, August 9, and will hold a Temporary Injunction Hearing on Friday, August 16 at 1:30pm in the Burnet County Courthouse Annex in Burnet.
The controversy surrounding the online curriculum rests with what opponents say is an overly liberal focus and the promotion of communist and socialist ideals. Opponents argue that the teachings, particularly the social studies program, encourage Islamic beliefs and makes Christianity the bad guy, according to the website www.txcscopereview.com. Parents against the program argue that students are being indoctrinated into Socialism, and that ‘real Texas values’ and the Christian faith should be at the center of curriculum in Texas.
For Llano, since the beginning of its implementation, the administration of CSCOPE has stirred strong feelings, and some say that the program caused good teachers to leave the ISD. Overly strict adherence requirements is one of many reasons given, in addition to teachers not feeling like they have any freedom to teach. Not being able to deviate from set lesson plans curbed creative license.
The program, which was designed so that school districts could have an affordable alternative to more costly programs, was created by educators and administrators at Education Service Centers. The program was designed to follow the state mandated testing, and because other programs were costly and it was a burden on some districts to create their own, the majority of school districts in Texas opted to follow the program. Some people believe that CSCOPE is used nationally, however, it is unique to Texas.
In May of this year, Senator Dan Patrick reached an agreement with education service centers to cease using the program, and it was agreed that no more lesson plans would be created. The program currently has approximately 1600 plans.
With the ban on CSCOPE, schools were left to come up with new curriculum. In July, the State Board of Education general counsel David Anderson and education commissioner Michael Williams found that there were no state laws that would prohibit school districts from using CSCOPE, since the lesson plans are considered public domain because of their widespread use. They decided that it was up to the school district to decide.
At the July school board meeting, Callahan announced that teachers in the district would be allowed to continue using CSCOPE; however, Callahan said that they would be monitored closely.
The lawsuit against the school asserts that by allowing teachers to use the curriculum, the school district is violating state law and that “this imminent harm will cause Plaintiffs irreparable injury in that children will be exposed to CSCOPE lesson plans, in violation of the Texas-Education Code.
In the original petition, it states, “Plaintiffs request that Defendant be temporarily restrained immediately, without hearing, and after notice and hearing, be temporarily enjoined, pending further order of this Court, from: Allowing its employees, including but not limited to teaching staff, to utilize CSCOPE lesson plans until such time as said instructional lessons have been approved pursuant to Section 31.022 of the Texas Education Code.”
In addition to asking that Llano ISD be forbidden to utilize CSCOPE, plaintiffs are also seeking court fees to be paid by the district.
In a press release from Callahan, he states, “The General Counsel for the Texas Education Agency has stated that ‘[t]he CSCOPE lessons are in the public domain in the sense that Shakespeare is in the public domain and anyone is allowed to use it.” Llano ISD has not mandated the use by its teachers, nor has it forbidden the use of CSCOPE resources. The goal of Llano ISD is to provide the best possible education for its students, in alignment with the state-mandated curriculum. To further that goal, the School District makes available those resources to assist teachers in their planning, sequencing, and instruction. Llano ISD believes that its actions are legal, and is contesting the claims raised in the lawsuit.”
Joining Cowart at the press conference were Lt. Governor David Dewhurst, State Rep. Steve Toth, R-The Woodlands, as well as conservative activists. Dewhurst said, “This issue is about teaching Texas children.”
Leticia McCasland commented, "The exemplar lessons and performance indicators (CSCOPE tests) have been discredited by Texas Legislation. CSCOPE was a curriculum brought to Llano ISD and used for six years, yet it was NOT approved by the State Board of Education. I am supporting this lawsuit to ensure that CSCOPE is no longer used at Llano ISD. "
Bill Hussey was also asked to comment, but did not return messages.
Cowart stated, “My clients are regular folks who are disappointed with the continued acceptance and endorsed use of CSCOPE Lesson Plans by Llano ISD. It is regrettable that we are forced to take this action for the sake of our children.”
Superintendent Callahan declined to comment on what the school would do if the injunction order is approved on Friday and CSCOPE cannot be used; school will begin August 26.