Lindbergh eyes policy on controversial speakers

Second reading of policies planned for Dec. 8 meeting

By MIKE ANTHONY

The first reading of a proposed policy that would establish guidelines for dealing with controversial speakers was conducted last week by the Lindbergh Board of Education.

The first reading of a related policy for teaching about controversial issues also was conducted by the board at its Nov. 10 meeting.

Both proposed policies were drafted as a result of Superintendent Jim Simpson’s decision not to show President Barack Obama’s live nationwide education speech to district students in early September.

At the school board’s Sept. 8 meeting, 10 people, including three Lindbergh High School students, told Simpson and board members they disagreed with the superintendent’s decision not to show the speech. The speakers said they were disappointed by the decision, with some contending a “vocal minority” usurped a learning opportunity for district pupils.

But Simpson’s decision was backed by one resident who spoke Sept. 8 and by board members, who said they fully supported the superintendent’s reasoning.

At that same meeting, board President Ken Fey directed the administration to draft a policy to deal with similar situations that might arise in the future.

Though the policies were drafted in response to Obama’s speech, Simpson told the Call last week, “… That’s just one out of endless possibilities of controversial items in the classroom and so both those policies are designed to address any controversial topic whether it’s district level or whether it’s individual class level. So we needed two policies to cover the whole spectrum.

“It seems that there are many, many, many groups out there that want to get their message into the classroom and we need to have those policies that really help us understand how to filter that and do the best for our mission, which is quality education. Actually, our mission isn’t to be a forum for political ideas or for ideas that individual groups — whatever that group may believe. Our mission is to teach core academics so that students have a strong basis in the skills needed for a successful life,” he continued.

“We do understand that we often are the first thing that these groups think about when they want to disseminate information. So these policies will help us, and from the very good to the medium to the bad, we will get probably well over 50 requests a year to have some viewpoint placed in the classroom … It’s frequent,” Simpson said.

“… Some of it is good, but there’s no time because if you just did all the good ones, then reading instruction and mathematics would be pushed out …,” he added.

Both proposed policies include a provision that in the event an issue may disrupt the educational process, the superintendent may — with board consultation — develop a process that will create guidance in dealing with a controversial speaker or controversial issue. Both policies also include a provision that parents may request an alternative assignment if they hold strong objection to the controversial speaker or controversial issue.

Among the guidelines in the proposed controversial speakers policy are:

• The teacher/sponsor will discuss with administration the appropriateness of the speaker. The teacher/sponsor and school building administrator will investigate fully those proposed resource persons about whom questions may arise.

• The teacher/sponsor should encourage the use of resource persons representing various approaches or points of view on a given topic to afford students a more comprehensive understanding of it.

• The ideas presented and the resource person invited to present them shall have a demonstrable relation to the curricular or cocurricular activity in which the participating students are involved.

• The teacher/sponsor responsible for inviting the resource person or any member of the school administration has the right and duty to interrupt or suspend any proceedings if the conduct of the resource person is judged to be in poor taste or endangering to the health and safety of students and staff.

The proposed policy on teaching about controversial issues states, “Before launching a class in the study of an obviously controversial topic or deviating from the planned curriculum to discuss a current-affairs item, a teacher will discuss with the principal and the district Curriculum and Instruction Department appropriateness to both the course and the maturity level of the students. The teacher will also discuss with administrator the approach to instruction and the teaching materials to be used.”

The proposal also notes that staff members have the responsibility to treat controversial topics as impartially and as objectively as possible in the following ways:

• Explore the possibility of alternative and/or divergent positions and opinions.

• Determine the degree and extent of consideration given to a specific issue based on knowledge, maturity and competence of the student and class.

• Ensure that an accurate, factual and balanced presentation of materials is readily available for the student.

• Help students to be tolerant of arguments in opposition to each individual’s prejudices and biases and to cultivate a habit of delaying decisions until all available facts have been considered.

The board is scheduled to consider approval of the two policies Dec. 8. In the meantime, the proposed policies will be available for review at the district’s Web site at

. Simpson said comments and suggestions regarding the policies are welcome.

“… We are always focusing upon why we’re here and what we’re trying to do to make sure that our students have what they need to have the core instruction — academic instruction. And also, we’re not afraid of divergent ideas and we want to encourage wide thinking. So these policies will help us sort of evaluate things to try to put them in the perspective that we need,” Simpson said.

In a separate matter Nov. 10, the Board of Education voted unanimously to approve a three-year agreement with the Lindbergh National Education Association.

Teachers endorsed the tentative agreement by a 6-to-1 margin Oct. 29.

“The 10-month process to complete this document was one of the longest negotiation efforts that Lindbergh Schools has ever experienced. I am confident this collaboration of hard work and time spent has allowed us to create a working agreement that will serve our students, staff and community in the very best way possible,” Assistant Superintendent for Personnel Services Rick Francis wrote in Nov. 10 memorandum to Simpson.

“… We are very pleased to have this agreement,” Simpson told the Call. “It is a win-win agreement in which it’s good for teachers and good for the board.

“And now we can dedicate 100 percent of our focus into educating children and not about working conditions or teacher contracts. That is good for students.”