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Addressing Controversial Topics in School

As a school district, our role is clear; we exist to educate students. It is our role to provide facts, help students research and discern, and ultimately come to their own conclusions on various topics, which may include climate change, racial justice movements, and political issues.  It is not our role to impose opinions, display images of support for political causes or movements in our classrooms, or to conduct inappropriate events with students that do not meet our policy guidelines. Classrooms are public spaces and should be treated as such to not marginalize any single student or group of students based on personal beliefs or disagreements on beliefs. 

 

There are many teachers that are doing a phenomenal job helping students explore these topics and make their own conclusions on various controversial topics, as it is just as important that we support students on researching past and present topics and ultimately reach their own decision and stances based on their home values and personal beliefs. All sides of the issue must be presented in order to allow students to derive their own beliefs about topics that are considered controversial. As an example, Big Picture High School has a course focused on “The Purpose of Protest”, and students are exploring past and present protests, both peaceful and violent protests, and deciding on their different influences and ultimate impacts. Fifth graders at Park Elementary are studying the Declaration of Human Rights while reading “Esperanza Rising” and making connections to violations and supports within the story to the declaration.  I am sure there are many other examples of how these topics are being discussed and explored in our classrooms across the district, and I applaud our teachers for their creativity and genuineness. 

 

Our school district must remain apolitical as our charge is to serve ALL of our community and remain neutral in controversial matters.  Board policy IMB defines controversial issues as "those problems, subjects, or questions about which there are significant differences of opinion and discussion of which generally creates strong feelings among people.” Although there may be disagreement over what facts are and what they mean, subjects usually become controversial issues because of differences in interpretation or the values people use in applying the facts. When there is a topic that fits this definition, it is our duty as public educators to remain neutral and apolitical, presenting facts to our students in a way that meets the standards that are expected of us by our community and the state, while encouraging curiosity in our students to explore these topics and their passions. The educational purpose of teaching about controversial issues or using controversial materials must be student achievement in academic standards rather than reaching conclusion about the validity of a specific point of view.

 

That being said, the district is responsible for protecting each student's rights to a quality education and must ensure that actions taken within the school district are not discriminatory toward any individual. While the school district does not engage in controversial issues, we must ensure we protect the rights of all students to learn, grow, and prosper within the district and ensure that all families feel supported and connected to our district mission and vision.


The district fully supports individuals in pursuing their passions, participating in community events and movements and ultimately contributing to our community in positive ways. We are grateful for a myriad of perspectives and passions as each is as unique as each of our students. Thank you for your ongoing support of exploring various topics in an educational setting that are presented in appropriate ways, and fully allowing students to own their learning, act on their learning and impact their community.

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