A new Frederick County Public Schools policy pertaining to teaching controversial issues is headed back to the school system’s policy committee after Jay Mason, Frederick County Board of Education’s vice president, asked for more language to be added regarding current events.
The policy was on the board’s agenda Wednesday and was expected to be voted on and approved. However, Mason requested it return to the committee for a few more tweaks before members vote on it.
Mason told FCPS staff that he would like to see additional language pertaining to the discussion of current events in the classroom that may not be officially included in curriculums.
“I’ve heard from some community members that students want to have an opportunity to talk about what goes on in our current events ... we have several controversial events that come up, and I think it should be covered in more than just our curriculum in the classroom somehow,” Mason said during the meeting.
Mason later clarified to the News-Post via email that he would like to see greater productive dialogue about current controversial issues and the development of safe spaces to do so.
“If students want to engage in controversial conversations, as a school system, we need to make sure each and every student is valued and respected while having those conversations,” Mason said. “When we take into account the social-emotional well-being of all of our students, as community leaders, we need to learn to be comfortable being uncomfortable, so we can prepare students for effective leadership.”
The policy committee will now add in language about discussing current events in the classroom and bring the policy back to the board for approval at a later date.
Policy 516, as it’s officially called, came about following an incident earlier this year, when a Nazi flag was seen by parents and students hanging in the window of a Gov. Thomas Johnson High School classroom during a Friday evening basketball game.
A picture of the flag hanging in the window prompted a viral Facebook post and expressions of outrage. After school officials were alerted to the presence of the flag, it was immediately removed.
An email sent out two days later via FindOutFirst by Daniel Lippy, former principal of TJ High, informed the community that the flag was hanging because it was used in a class about World War II.
FCPS went on to issue formal statements and apologies for any hurt the presence of the flag had caused.
Board member Michael Bunitsky, who sits on the FCPS policy committee, said the committee, board and school system felt that some guidelines and standards around controversial issues and the use of historical artifacts needed to be set following the TJ High incident.
“We do have to deal with some issues that can be touchy, but we want to deal with them in such a way that the teacher has some guidance,” Bunitsky said. “[The policy] gives teachers and parents recognition of how issues that come up pretty much on a daily basis these days could be addressed in a classroom.”
The new policy states that historical artifacts may be used in the context of curricular objectives and recognizes the importance of using artifacts to teach students to be critical thinkers.
It defines controversial issues as, “a point or matter about which there exist significant opposing viewpoints and/or multiple perspectives.”
A discussion of controversial issues, per the draft language, may be done when the issue has political, economic or social significance, when students are provided access to credible and relevant information related to the topic, when the issue is presented in a setting free of bias or judgment, and when students are able to form their own opinions on the issue without jeopardizing their relationship with the teacher or school.
Additionally, the policy states that teachers are responsible for presenting all views on a subject and that teachers may share their own personal views when appropriate as long as it is presented as an opinion rather than a fact.