Can controversial issues be discussed in schools?

By Dr. Akil E. Ross, Sr.

I have often been asked can controversial issues be discussed in schools? Before answering this question, It is important to provide clarity about the implementation of school board policies that address Academic Freedom and Teaching about Controversial/Sensitive Issues.

School District Five of Lexington and Richland Counties is committed to its vision of loving and growing all students as we prepare them to meet the profile of a SC graduate. To accomplish this goal, teachers prepare lessons and activities that are based on the SC State Standards. While teaching these standards, there may be topics that are considered controversial or sensitive. According to Board Policy IMB, teachers should refrain from expressing their personal opinions on controversial topics such as sectarianism, politics, and other sensitive issues. This policy aims to ensure a neutral and unbiased teaching approach.

Our goal is that after being presented with multiple viewpoints surrounding a topic, our students arrive at an independent conclusion about the presented issues and topics. According to Board Policy IB – Academic Freedom, the teacher should not attempt to limit or control the judgements of the students in any way.

In School District Five, we ask our teachers to provide students with a variety of viewpoints to ensure fair representation of an issue so that through research and critical analysis, the student can determine their own position on the issue and defend their position with evidence. Under these conditions, our policies protect teachers from censorship or restraint.

There will be times when students or parents disagree with issues discussed in class. The best way to resolve these matters is through communication between the family and the teacher. However, any parent may contact the school principal if needed to discuss the details of a lesson.

Further discussion of Board Policy IB – Academic Freedom, the Academic Freedom Administrative Rule, and Board Policy IMB- Teaching About Controversial/Sensitive Issues will be held at the July 17, 2023, Board Meeting.

The question remains: Can controversial issues be discussed in schools? Yes, if the topic is appropriate to the course, if it is appropriate for the maturity of the students, and if the instruction is fair and unbiased, then controversial issues can be discussed in schools.

One of the ultimate goals of education is for our students to become critical thinkers with the ability to develop their own understanding of the world around them.