Category I: Instruction
Procedure I8: Controversial Issues in School
Controversial issues are topics that may be publicly sensitive and about which there are varied levels of opposing views, biases, emotions and/or conflict. American academic tradition stresses the free exchange of ideas as a basic element of curriculum development, instruction, and discussion. Studying controversial issues in school is important in preparing students to participate intelligently and responsibly in a democratic and pluralistic society.
An important goal of public education is to help students develop the capacity to participate respectfully, critically and positively in the discussion and analysis of controversial issues. Studying controversial issues provides opportunities to develop a student’s ability to think clearly and critically, to reason logically, to differentiate between opinion and intelligent analysis, and to respectfully examine different points of view with an open mind. All district staff and students have a right to express their opinions and a right to a respectful hearing. While teachers and other staff may have personal views on controversial issues, they do not have a right to use the school setting as a forum to promote their personal views. Educators need to be constantly mindful that their views may influence students and that they have an obligation to model objectivity and to encourage their students to think for themselves.
The approach to writing about controversial issues and to discussion of controversial issues in the classroom will be objective and scholarly and will be done in a spirit of critical inquiry rather than advocacy. Teachers will ensure that reasoned arguments on an issue are presented in classroom discussions. Teachers will strive to balance major views and to assure that as many sides of the issues as possible are presented in a fair and impartial manner, with no position presented as the only one acceptable. Political issues will be presented in a non-partisan manner. Controversial issues that arise incidentally during instruction should be used by the teacher to promote critical inquiry and to teach thinking skills. In all instances, teachers will encourage students to develop an ability to meet issues without prejudice and to withhold judgments while facts are collected and evaluated.
Teachers must obtain permission from the principal to invite visitors for classroom and/or school-wide presentations. Whenever outside persons are invited to speak on controversial issues, care will be taken to assure that a reasonable range of opinions on the issue are presented in an equitable manner and that they are consistent with the academic standards of the school. Teachers will offer students and parents who might be offended by a presentation because of their religious or personal beliefs the opportunity not to participate. Student-initiated forums are subject to the same standards for approach to discussion, consistency with the academic standards of the school, and use of visitors for presentations.