Saga of the “Controversial Issues Policy” — Part 2

Controversial Issues Policy


This post is a continuation of the analysis begun in “Saga of the ‘Controversial Issues Policy'” — Part 1,” March 23, 2022.

This post demonstrates that in 2020-21, when the School Board was considering its new race-centric curricula, it was aware that its plans would violate the school system’s long-standing Controversial Issues Policy, and, therefore, that the Policy would need to be amended to permit the new curricula to be taught.

The School Board Recognized That Its Curriculum Would Violate Policy

On September 15, 2020, the “equity” staff of the school system met with the School Board to discuss its work on “anti-racism, anti-bias” initiatives, including its development of new social studies curricula.  At the meeting, the Social Studies Coordinator, Coleen Eddy, presented a slide that summarized the Board’s Controversial Issues Policy, which requires teachers to remain impartial on public policy issues involving substantial differences of opinion.  She then stated:

“We know that ultimately anti-racism and anti-bias education asks for teachers to take a clear stand, a stand against racism, a stand against bias, on issues that some people may perceive as controversial.  And when we come down to it, we know that changing attitudes, challenging inequality, and raising consciousness are not neutral matters.  And so [we] ask the School Board [to] provide some clarity of expectations for our staff and some support for this work going forward.”

The Board agreed that guidance and clarity were needed, so it directed its Governance Committee to develop an Anti-Racism/Anti-Bias Policy, as well as amendments to the Controversial Issues Policy.  (A videotape of the September 15 meeting can be viewed on YouTube HERE.)

The conflict between the Controversial Issues Policy and the Board’s “anti-racism, anti-bias” agenda was restated on several occasions as the “equity” team proceeded with its work.  In a slide-show presentation entitled “Anti-Racism, Anti-Bias Education Curriculum and Controversial Issues Policies — Project Update” (undated, but believed to be in November 2020), the team stated:

“Changing attitudes, challenging inequality, and raising consciousness are not neutral matters.  … Currently, not all teachers and  staff feel supported to enact this change.  One of the reasons for this uncertainty is our existing Controversial Issues Policy & Regulation, which tell staff that when issues are controversial, teachers are expected to maintain impartiality.  An issue qualifies as controversial when there are differences of opinion and strong emotions involved.  While exploration of controversial issues is encouraged, teachers’ ‘personal beliefs’ are not to interfere.  In contrast, anti-racism and anti-bias education requires educators to take a stand on issues that some may perceive as controversial.” (The slide show can be found HERE.)

This point was reaffirmed again and again in the ensuing months.  In focus group sessions, participants advocated for changing the Policy so that neutrality would not be required, and advocacy would be facilitated, in discussing controversial issues regarding race relations.  See Focus Group Slide SummaryIn a June 2021 memo, the Social Studies Coordinator stated that the current Policy defines “‘controversial’ in ways that make anti-bias education very difficult.” See C. Eddy to L. Williams email.  And the Superintendent of Schools, Scott Braband, identified revision of the Controversial Issues Policy as a “crucial policy action.” See Braband briefing.  

Why Was There a Conflict?

What’s so controversial about telling kids to be tolerant of others?  Nothing.  Then why did the School Board recognize that the Controversial Issues Policy would inhibit its agenda?

The reason is that the Board’s “anti-racism, anti-bias” plans involved much, much more than counselling students to respect everyone regardless of their race, ethnicity, religion and so forth.  The intent was to adopt a comprehensive program of curriculum revisions, teacher training, and dedicated classes that would incorporate concepts of “privilege,” “systemic racism,” “identity,” “power,” “equity” and “social justice.”  The plan contemplated that teachers would “take a clear stand” in teaching these principles.  The plan also contemplated that students would be encouraged to become activists in “anti-racist” causes.

To say that these plans are controversial is an understatement.  The race-related concepts the Board has adopted are among the key tenets of so-called Critical Race Theory, which is probably the most super-charged, hotly-contested issue in education today.  See What Is Critical Race Theory,” Dec. 17, 2021.

Proponents of these concepts often attempt to mislead the public by saying they merely want to “teach history,” including the bad parts of our history with the good.  But teaching the facts of history is not the School Board’s core agenda.  What its “anti-racist, anti-bias” program really entails is using historical injustices as a springboard for advancing the Board’s ideas about how to compensate today for injustices of the past.  See “Fairfax School Board Defends Race-Centric Curriculum – Continued,” February 12, 2022.  This agenda involves political choices that are unquestionably controversial.

That’s why the School Board recognized that revision of the Controversial Issues Policy was a “crucial policy action.”

The next post on this site will review the facts regarding the Board’s development of a new Policy.

If you believe this post is informative and of interest to parents and other citizens of Fairfax County, please share it with others.




Print Friendly, PDF & Email