BLUFFTON, Ind. (WANE) – A Pride flag will stay in an eighth-grade classroom in Bluffton.
On Tuesday night, the Bluffton-Harrison Metropolitan School District’s (BHMSD) board discussed a policy on how to handle “controversial material” in its classrooms during a special meeting.
The issue comes after a Pride flag was hanging on the wall in an eighth-grade classroom at Bluffton Harrison Middle School drew a “parental concern” that forced the district to seek legal counsel.
According to the eighth-grade science teacher Bev Balash, the concern from the parent stemmed from that parent’s child being bullied at school.
“She blamed the presence of the flag for why her child was being bullied,” Bev Balash said. “She kept squawking and the school board stuck behind me, the superintendent was behind me and did not tell me to take it down. Then with enough media attention and Facebook attention she’s pushed us into this corner.”
Balash says the flag has been in her classroom for years. She says she hung it to let kids know they have a safe space to go. It’s also not the only flag in the classroom. Balash says there are several flags because the classroom is also used by a teacher who teaches different languages.
From that parents, the concern came for the school board to seek legal advice. Tuesday evening, the school board set out to “develop a policy to clearly identify topics considered controversial and outline the buildings and/or grade levels in which controversial topics would not be permitted.”
A peaceful protest was held at the high school leading up to the meeting. Community members held signs and showed support for the LGBTQA+ group.
The special meeting was open to the public and held in the Blufton High School auditorium. Several in attendance stood during the two-and-a-half-hour meeting, a majority of which was opened for public comment.
Nearly a hundred people spoke some for the flag others against it. However the overwhelming theme from those who spoke said that Tuesday night’s meeting was not about the flag, but about the bullying that takes place in schools and the mental health of students.
In the meeting, the board presented the first draft of its, “Resolution Regarding Respect and Inclusion of All Students” policy. Inside were two parts: one policy covered controversial issues the other classroom postings.
Several times during the discussion of the polices board members stated that the district values every student and wanted them to feel welcome and safe at school.
“When beliefs and opinions differ, they will be discussed in respectful ways. BHMSD does not with to indoctrinate students on topics outside the school curricula, not does it with to marginalize those with views on topics with which others in the community disagree,” the policy said.
When it comes to controversial issues, “the teacher is responsible for creating a learning environment in which all students and staff are respected without promoting or advocating a particular point of view.”
The board said it will allow controversial issues to be used in the classroom if:
- It is related to the instructional goals of the course of study and level of maturity of the student.
- The curriculum permits multiple points of view on the issue.
- It does not tend to indoctrinate or persuade students to a particular point of view.
- It encourages open-mindedness and is conducted in a spirit of scholarly inquiry.
In order for a teacher to discuss controversial issues, the following criteria must be met:
- The issue must be within the range of knowledge, maturity and competence of the students and pertinent to the curricular assignment of the teacher.
- The teacher will need to be responsible for presenting the facts on all aspects of the issue.
- Study materials and learning aids must be available with a “responsible amount of data pertaining to the different aspects of the issue may be obtained.”
- The issue must be significant and concern a considerable number of people and be related to basic principles or at the moment is under consideration by the public and mass media. However, the issue must not disrupt the learning environment.
- Teachers will need to exercise tact and diplomacy in handling unexpected issued presented during normal classroom discussion. Discussions should be deferred until proper preparation has been made. No student should feel embarrassed for having posed a question.
- The principal will need to be informed of controversial issued that are being studies with all relevant information pertaining to the issue(s) given to the principal ahead of time.
The district continues to say that postings in the classroom should not contain political or religious materials that are unrelated to the curriculum. Any postings in the classroom cannot be intended to indoctrinate or persuade students to a to have a particular viewpoint. Instead, the district said that postings should encourage open-mindedness and a spirit of scholarly inquiry.
After the discussion of the two policies, the board made a vote and moved the first draft to the next meeting. During this vote, several school board members voiced concerns and asked that the policies be updated and changed after Tuesday night’s meeting.
The vote on the policies will be at the next school board meeting on September 13.