Teaching about Controversial/Sensitive Issues


Maine School Administrative District No. 31


One of the roles of the school is to introduce and discuss issues of concern to the community. In doing so, these issues may be called controversial because of the diversity of religious, moral, and ethical views present in the community. The Board supports the discussion of controversial issues in an atmosphere of respect and appreciation of all sides of the issue.

There are ideas, beliefs, and customs, which are so cherished by cultures that they are known as values. Parents are society’s most valuable means of imparting values. It is not the function of the school to help set values, but rather to help students identify values and their impact on people’s decisions and actions.

Training in reflective and responsive thinking, may be incorporated in course offerings at all grade levels. This training is impossible, or at least severely hampered, if the community does not respect the principles of freedom and recognize that dissent does not necessarily mean disloyalty. However, one form of dissent, which is incompatible with freedom, is that which attempts to end freedom. Irrational fears do just this, and thereby may block the school in its efforts to handle controversial issues in an atmosphere of freedom and thoroughness.

A. It is the responsibility of the Board to make provision for the study of controversial issues.

1. The policy on controversial issues should be defined in terms of the rights of students rather than in terms of the rights of


2. The study should be objective and scholarly with a minimum emphasis on opinion and a maximum emphasis on facts.

3. The Board acknowledges the need to protect employees from censorship or restraint which interferes with their professional

obligations in the implementation of the Board-approved curriculum. The Board has full trust and confidence in the

professional judgment of its employees.

B. In the study of controversial issues, the students have the following rights:

1. The right to study any controversial issue which has political, economic, or social significance and concerning which

(at the appropriate level) he/she should begin to have an opinion;

2. The right to have free access to all relevant information;

3. The right to form and express opinions on controversial issues without thereby jeopardizing relations with the teacher

or the school; and

4. The right to study under competent instruction in an atmosphere free from bias and prejudice.

C. The teacher employs the same methods in handling controversial issues as characterize the best teaching at any time.

1. The teacher, in presenting both the content and the method of instruction, is mindful of the maturity level of the students.

2. The teacher has assured him/herself that the controversial subject to be discussed belongs within the framework of the

curriculum to be covered, that the subject is significant as well as meaningful for the students, and that through the

discussion, students will have the opportunity to grow.

3. The teacher handles the classroom presentation in ways which will ensure a wide range of information and interpretation

for the students’ consideration and strives to present a balance among many points of view.

4. The teacher does not use the classroom as a personal forum. He/she does not employ the techniques of the demagogue or

the propagandist for attention, for control, or simply for color. The teacher has the right to identify and express his/her

own point of view in the classroom as long as he/she indicates clearly that it is his/her own.

5. The teacher emphasizes keeping an open mind, basing one’s judgment on known facts, looking closely at facts to evaluate

them in terms of the subject under discussion, and being ready to change one’s opinion should new facts come into light.

6. The emphasis always is on the method of forming an opinion as much as on the opinion formed.

D. In the study of controversial issues, parent/guardians have the following rights:

1. The right to review the curriculum and/or the material utilized as part of the curriculum.

2. The option of limiting their child’s participation, in part or whole, in any discussion or course of a controversial nature.

An appropriate alternate assignment will be recommended by the teacher in conjunction with the building administrator.

If an agreement cannot be met, the parents/guardians have the option to see the building administrator in order to use the

Opt Out Procedure for their child.

Cross Reference: IJJ – Instructional and Library Materials Selection

IJJ-E – Request for Reconsideration of Instructional and Library Materials

First Reading: 05/21/2003

Adopted: 06/18/2003