DEIAC Subcommittee Offers Recommendations on Controversial Issues Policy to the Saline Board of Education
The school district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Advisory Committee weighed in on the debate over the proposed controversial issues policy at the May 9 Saline Board of Education meeting.
Some parents want the right to pull their children from class when they find the educational content objectionable. It’s a topic that’s been fiercely debated in the community since the controversy over the reading of I Am Jazz, a children’s picture book about a transgender girl authored by a reality television star.
The district’s policy committee recently held a meeting in a workshop format to try and build consensus on policy.
Tuesday night, the DEIAC subcommittee on the controversial issues policy made its recommendations to the Board of Education. Alice Kazee, Amy Tesolin and Tiffanie Alexander provided their report to the board.
“We want to be clear that there is no opting out of identities that does not have a negative impact,” Alexander said. “There is no opting out of identities that will not have a chilling impact on the classroom or that does not violate best practices. The recommendations you are going to hear are how to best mitigate the harm that comes from opting out of identities.”
Kazee said it was important the policy does not place too much burden on teachers and administrators.
“In this day and age when we can’t retain teachers and they are leaving the field in droves, this is not something we need to place on top of their plate,” Kazee said.
Teachers often find themselves under attack on social media because of the curriculum decisions they’ve made or the ideas they’ve introduced to kids.
“We want to make sure this board policy supports them in that as well,” Kazee said.
Tesolin said parents and guardians must be clear and put “opt-out” requests in writing. Tesolin said the DEIAC has heard from teachers who are unclear on rules.
“Do they have to take posters down? Do they have to remove choice boards? Do they have to take books out of their classrooms? They don’t know. These are teachers who are committed to teaching in an inclusive way,” Tesolin said. “We’re looking to have it put in writing so that it can be used for clarification purposes so that teachers don’t have to guess what the excusal is for. It can be referred back to, as well.”
In addition, Tesolin said, the policy must follow the law.
“The application of the policy can’t discriminate,” Tesolin said, which means there need to be clear definitions about what content can result in excusing students from class.
Tesolin provided an example.
“Consider if you’re comfortable if a book or a poster of Einstein is to be removed from a science room because of his Jewish identity. If you allow something to be excused by one identity, you have to allow it for all identities,” Tesolin said, citing the Elliott-Larsen Civil Rights Act.
Alexander said it was important that opt-outs are specific and that parents should not expect “blanket” opt-outs of all resulting speech and conversations about lessons their children were excused from.
Furthermore, Alexander said, you cannot opt out of teacher identities, “which means you cannot request to be put into the classroom with a cisgender, heterosexual teacher,” Alexander said.
She said all caution must be taken to ensure there is no “chilling impact” on the classroom and that all classrooms and buildings will have material, content and curriculum that reflect all of the diverse identities in Saline Area Schools and the world around us.
“The excusal of one student - one person’s parental rights cannot negatively impact the parental rights of the rest of the class. A teacher cannot remove choices from choice boards, posters, from the classroom or books normally read allowed,” Alexander said. “All identities must be well represented in all teachers’ classrooms.”
Alexander said that was not currently happening in the district.
Kazee said policies should be district-wide, clear, concise and transparent to all.
“We’re not saying parents don’t have the choice to opt out of things, but we’re saying there needs to be a structured process so we support students and staff through the process,” Kazee said.