Carroll County’s Board of Education voted unanimously Wednesday to update a policy aimed at limiting political conversations in classrooms.
Board members removed a portion of the policy that focused on tracking teachers who violate it. Instead, the school board approved posting to the CCPS website a formal complaint form created by school system staff “for parents to use with any unresolved issues or concerns at the school level.”
The policy was originally written and approved in 1990 and revised in 2008. The most recent revisions were proposed in July. In addition to changing the name of the policy, from “Political Activities of Carroll County Public Schools Employees” to “Political Neutrality of Carroll County Public Schools Employees,” the revisions require employees to “remain neutral on political issues, parties, and candidates during classroom instruction” and avoid discussing such issues unless they are “aligned with the approved curriculum.”
The revised policy also states that “no employee shall: Engage in a captive audience classroom discussion of the employee’s viewpoints on political issues, parties, and candidates; and prevent non-disruptive student expression of student viewpoints on political issues, parties, and candidates.”
Proposed in July, the policy was set to be approved during December’s school board meeting. Voting was delayed when school board member Donna Sivigny pitched a document for reporting alleged violations and monitoring teachers who do not stick to the curriculum.
The school system’s lawyer, Rochelle Eisenberg, warned in December that such a policy may violate free speech guarantees.
“This policy and regulations are designed to make sure that teachers adhere to the curriculum and not deviate by injecting personal or political viewpoints that are contrary to the curriculum … the whole idea is to be neutral,” the school board’s attorney Edmund O’Meally said Wednesday.
During the December board meeting, Sivigny suggested adding the form for “reporting and monitoring mechanisms” into the policy, where parents could fill out incident reports about teachers.
Sivigny said the form would be helpful to the public, in light of the polarizing political climate the world is in.
“We’re not developing a brand-new policy, we’re expanding on a policy that already exists to address what is going on in the county,” Sivigny said. “The form isn’t meant to track teachers or make disciplinary actions.”
Board member Patricia Dorsey said CCPS has a professional teaching staff, and they should be treated as professionals.
“I really don’t want to see any tracking form as part of this policy,” Dorsey said.
Board member Marsha Herbert agreed with Dorsey.
“I do not want a witch-hunt. If a teacher is not doing their job, it’s the principal’s job to do progressive discipline on that person,” Herbert said.
The school board’s vice president, Tara Battaglia, was in support of Sivigny’s document. A teacher’s personal beliefs may have an influence on students, she said.
“Parents need to make sure that their voices are heard. There needs to be something parents can fill out and say, ‘this is my concern,’” Battaglia said.
Superintendent Steve Lockard said the form would send a wrong message to teachers.
“I don’t think there’s a need for a form in this context … if you have an issue go to your child’s teacher … go to your child’s principal,” Lockard said.