Virginia Regulatory Town Hall
Department of Education
State Board of Education
Regulations Governing Local School Boards and School Divisions [8 VAC 20 ‑ 720]
Action Amendments Regarding Use of Controversial or Sensitive Instructional Materials
Comment Period Ended on 1/15/2014
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1/6/14  5:19 pm
Commenter: Alan Clune, concerned citizen

Recommendations for VBOE re Controversial/Sensitive Materials

  The long-standing principles of academic freedom in American classrooms support the appropriate teaching of controversial and sensitive subjects, provided the purpose, methods, evaluation and suitability for the students are in concert with clear policies set from the state level down to the local schoolhouse. Even in these settings, however, some subjects or materials come into conflict with the core values and beliefs of one or more students (and/or their parents). Thus, clear policy is needed to ensure that a process exists to accomodate those beliefs and resolve those conflicts.

   In developing a regulation to provide such guidance, VBOE must balance the freedom and expertise of the professional staffs at building level with the rights and genuine concerns of students and parents.

     These issues are not unique to Virginia; there are many examples in other states and localities of policies that work.  Thus, VBOE is not traveling in uncharted territory.   A search of the net, and my own experience as a teacher and administrator in Connecticut and Massachusetts, leads me to note the following similarities in policies that seem to be effective: 

   1.  Effective policies clearly define what constitues "controvesial" and "sensitive" materials and subjects.

   2.  Effective policies outline  processes whereby concerned citizens can challenge use of particular materials or the inclusion of certain subjects within a particular grade level or curriculum.  Many of these processes provide school officials the opportunity to explain their intent and method in a forum in which the questioning  party can clarify their own concerns.

   3.  Effective policies include  methods to attempt to resolve the conflict.  This last step is often done by offering a selection of alternate materials that alleviate the concerns, or, in extremely difficult cases, an "opt-out", under clearly defined rules, and with no academic penalty.    

   As mentioned above, there are a number of benchmark possibilities.  Professional organizations provide ample guidance in this area, but, one in particular, that seems to cover all the bases--from selection to reconsideration in the face of controversey--can be found on the American Library Assn. website here:  Note, in particular, the section on controversial subjects.

   Thank you for the opportunity to comment on this important subject.  I shall continue to follow the progress of your deliberations.


CommentID: 29870