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Green Bay school board to vote on policy revisions on handling controversial issues

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(The Center Square) – The Green Bay Area Public School District has revised how it wants teachers to handle discussions involving what it calls “controversial issues.”

The revised policy was before the school board last week during a work session and states that teachers are not to “indoctrinate” students.

Lori Blakeslee, director of communications for the Green Bay Area public school district, said in an email to The Center Square that the policy revisions will be voted on by the board at the next regular meeting, which would be Monday. The district defines controversial issues as topics on sensitive matters dealing with “race, sexuality, religion, politics, social violence or a recent tragedy.”

While the district said these conversations have many valid and educational purposes, it stated in some situations, the correct choice for teachers is to not engage the students when the topic or issues arise and should be on an informative basis, according to the document.

The Green Bay School District added to the revised report that the principal must review and approve an outline of all presentations, programs, and speakers regarding controversial issues.

Guidelines covering “teaching about controversial issues” include sticking to the curriculum topic, avoiding the topic if the administration says to do so, and expecting teachers to avoid topics not related to the classroom curriculum. For example, in a math class, a math teacher should not direct a learning activity about religion and religious controversies” unless directed by the school administrator.

“District employees may not use their position to attempt to indoctrinate or convince students to adopt the employee’s personal beliefs or personal worldview with respect to controversial subjects/issues,” the district’s revised document stated. “District employees also shall not demonstrate any improper favoritism toward students who may share or who express support for beliefs, positions, or opinions on controversial issues that are consistent with those held by the employee.”

Teachers can show understanding but not agree on controversial issues while moderating these discussions, according to the district documents. They can also use caution with younger students when a topic arises or is being taught.

“Although it will often be appropriate for educators to avoid revealing their personal opinions, positions, or beliefs to students on a controversial topic or issue if an educator determines that circumstances exist that justify making such a disclosure, the educator is expected to do so in a manner that does not denigrate the legitimacy of other positions/responses,” the document stated.

When a controversial topic arises, the documents state that it is usually acceptable for teachers in these situations to acknowledge the students or reason for the discussion while identifying the issue and deciding whether they are prepared or willing to continue the conversation.

While the school allows these topics if related to curriculum, teachers are required to let the parents know before or after the activity for a chance to opt-out and to let the administration know if a parent complains about such topics or activities.

Teachers are to follow all district procedures while keeping the administrator aware and seeking guidance before introducing the topic to the classroom, the revised policy stated.

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