Saga of the Controversial Issues Policy — Part 5

I had intended this post to be an analysis and critique of the Fairfax County School Board’s proposed revision of its Controversial Issues Policy and Regulation (“Policy”).  That’s not possible, however, because a committee of the Board is still tinkering with the language.  Therefore, this post will only provide a brief summary of the process to date and a projected timeline for finalization of a revised Policy, as well as a few interim comments.


The first four posts about the Policy are HERE, HERE, HERE and HERE.  Those posts document the following facts:

  • For many years, the Fairfax County school system has had a straight-forward Controversial Issues Policy that requires teachers to be neutral and nonpartisan when controversial issues arise in their classrooms.
  • In 2020 the School Board was in the midst of revising its curricula for social studies courses to emphasize the  concepts of “privilege,” “institutional racism,” “identity,” “power,” and “equity/social justice.”
  • The Board recognized that these concepts are controversial, but since it was determined to teach these ideas to our children, it directed its staff  to develop an amendment to the Policy that would authorize them to be taught.
  • The Board initiated an amendment process that was biased and secretive.  Its public survey was skewed towards the conclusion it wanted to hear.  It conducted focus group sessions, but the invitees were limited to individuals and groups the Board regarded as “stakeholders,” i.e., persons and groups who would probably favor changes to the Policy.
  • The process dragged on for many months and was “paused” at some point in 2021.  In the meantime, the Board went ahead and implemented new social studies curricula that embody the controversial concepts, notwithstanding its recognition that by doing so it was violating the long-standing Controversial Issues Policy.

Current Status

After several months of dormancy, a draft of a new Policy was considered by the Board’s Governance Committee at a meeting on March 15, 2022.  At that meeting, several edits were suggested, and the matter was deferred for further consideration at the committee’s next meeting.

The Governance Committee met again yesterday, April 19.  An updated draft was circulated for the meeting, which can be seen HERE.

The new draft was not approved at yesterday’s meeting.  Committee members and FCPS staff made additional comments, which will require further edits.  The matter will be considered again at the Governance Committee’s next meeting in May.  After finalization by the committee, which may or may not occur at the May meeting, the revised Policy will go to the full Board for review at one of its Work Sessions.  The Board may or may not sign off on the proposal at that meeting.  If and when the Board finishes its review, the matter will be put on the agenda for final approval at one of the Board’s formal meetings.  Thus, final approval of a revised Controversial Issues Policy seems to be a few months off.


Yesterday’s meeting was interesting.  The discussion suggested that the Governance Committee doesn’t yet have a clear consensus about its objectives in amending the Policy.

From the outset of the revision process in September 2020, the stated purpose was to rewrite the Policy to permit teachers to take a stand on controversial issues relating to the Board’s “anti-racism, anti-bias” agenda, rather than to maintain neutrality as required by the current Policy.  But at yesterday’s meeting, some committee members commented that the new Policy should make clear that teachers are not allowed to express their opinions about controversial ideas.  The two statements of objectives are irreconcilable.

At yesterday’s meeting, there was no discussion of the fact that the Board has already implemented new curricula for social studies courses that stress the controversial subjects of “institutional racism,” “privilege,” “identity,” “power” and “equity/social justice” in lesson after lesson after lesson, such that the teachers are presumably already taking sides on controversial issues.  How will the next draft of the Policy deal with this?  It will be interesting to see.

Another thing that stood out from the discussion yesterday was the emphasis on “critical thinking”; i.e., the concept that students should be taught to think for themselves and to challenge teachers and/or other students in classroom discussions.  For example, the Superintendent, Scott Braband, related that when he taught a 12th grade U.S. Government course, almost every class would stimulate students to discuss the pros and cons of various Supreme Court opinions.  While that might conceivably be a realistic course outline for 12th graders (assuming that the teacher is well prepared and scrupulously neutral), the proposed new Controversial Issues Policy doesn’t differentiate between 1st graders and 12th graders, nor, as currently drafted, does it require teachers to be neutral.  Younger students aren’t in a position to engage in true critical thinking, particularly if their teacher is expressing his or her own opinion on an issue.

Yesterday’s meeting also exhibited examples of “Parkinson’s law of triviality,” which postulates that the amount of time spent discussing an issue is inversely proportional to its complexity or importance, as when a committee discussing the budget for a nuclear weapons laboratory focuses on whether to purchase single- or double-ply tissue for the laboratory’s bathrooms.  In yesterday’s meeting several committee members and staffers weighed in on whether the new Policy should retain the title “Controversial Issues Policy,” or should change it to “Controversial Topics Policy,” “Challenging Issues Policy,” or something else.  There also were discussions about which provisions in the Policy should be included in the “definitions” section versus somewhere else in the text.  In my view, not nearly enough of the back-and-forth discussion focused on the substantive issues, the ambiguities in the text, etc.

It will be interesting to see what’s in the next version of the proposal.



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  1. mike on April 20, 2022 at 5:24 pm

    Thanks for the update.
    They will keep doubling down and tripling down until they face a strong enough resistance.