L-D schools pass classroom displays and decorations policy

LEAD — Following a proposed classroom displays and decorations policy presented to the public at the May 10 Board of Education meeting which drew public outcry on both sides of the issue, the Lead-Deadwood Board of Education Monday passed a revised version of the policy, setting forth parameters on the subject.

“It’s becoming an issue beyond these particular safe space signs,” said Lead-Deadwood School District Superintendent Dr. Erik Person. “It’s forcing us to address the larger issue of what we are going to allow, and what those First Amendment rights are going to be, and what the limits are going to be. It gives us some guidelines, some parameters because we had nothing before to rein it in or even deal with it at all.”

Ten individuals, limited to three minutes, each spoke regarding the proposed policy during a public forum.

Sue Ann Kennedy, a taxpayer in the Lead-Deadwood School District with five grandchildren in the district, took issue with the fact that individuals not vested in the district spoke against the policy at the May meeting.

“I’m in favor of this policy because I believe that public schools should be a neutral place where all children feel safe, not just those that identify with a specific group,” Kennedy said.

Kayla Klein, whose children attend school in the district addressed the board, asking if an outside consultant had been contacted regarding the topic.

“Equal does not always mean equitable, and I know I don’t have to say that to a bunch of educators, but, for example, a child with a hearing impairment is not always going to have the same needs as a typically developing child. So we do have to keep in mind that not every child is equal, but they all deserve equitable care and education,” Klein said.

School Board Chairperson Suzanne Rogers addressed the crowd of around 25.

“I was disappointed that we’ve actually come to this,” Rogers said. “Because it was a simple sign that the intent was to help a high-risk group of kids and that became a controversy. I understand why it did, but I wish it wouldn’t’ve. I initially thought we didn’t need a policy, because I know all of our staff has always had the best interest of all of our students at their heart and they would do whatever they could for any student. But I fear we’ve opened Pandora’s box. We cannot go back, and if we don’t create a policy with some structure, we’re going to just be doing this all the time. There’s just going to be questions about everything. Every policy. Every sign. Every gesture. Everything. So I feel we are probably going to need to go with a policy. I do like the change in the policy, because I think we were remiss in not addressing the counselors, because it is their job to be a safe space for all of our students and as such they do and will continue to be a resource for a multitude of student issues, including the LGBTQ. Therefore, I think it’s not only reasonable, but essential that they are allowed to have signs for objects in their offices that adhere to the ASCA (American School Counselor Association) standards.”

The new policy states that materials and decorations displayed by school employees on district property will not represent any social agenda or other controversial subject matter, including political or religious messages. Such materials include, but are not limited to signs, posters, fliers, banners, flags, or decorations, including images, symbols or test.

School counselors will be permitted to display signage in the counselor’s office that is aligned with ASCA standards and recommendations.

The United States flag, nor any state flag of the Union, in an unaltered form, are considered controversial for the purposes of this policy.

Materials and symbols that are temporarily displayed in the classroom or other instructional areas will be exempt from the policy, as long as they are displayed as part of a lesson based on the approved curriculum and content standards, and as long as they are school and grade level appropriate, relevant and significant to the applicable lesson. “This clause shall in no way exempt the employee or the school district from any laws or policies prohibiting the teaching of divisive concepts,” reads the policy.

Materials displayed on school property can be reasonably construed as endorsed or permitted by the district and may be removed by the principal, superintendent, or designee if they are determined to be in violation of this policy.

“In making a determination whether the display of materials should be removed, the administration shall take in consideration whether the display of the controversial subject matter will cause strong negative reactions from reasonably minded persons,” according to the policy.

Controversial subject matter includes: materials endorsing a candidate, platform, position, political party or slogan; or concepts, images, slogans, or phrases that have appeared in the media and have been associated with controversy or a movement or cause; or concepts, images slogans, or phrases that a reasonable person would deem offensive, obscene, or inflammatory.

If an employee feels that the policy is being unfairly enforced, the Lead-Deadwood School District staff grievance procedure will serve as the appeal process.

If a district, student, or patron wishes to report a suspected violation of the policy, they must follow this procedure: report to the building principal and the building principal will make a determination within five school days whether the object in question is in violation of the policy; at that point, the building principal will either have the employee remove the object or notify the employee that a complaint has been made and that the object in question does not violate the policy; the building principal will report back to the complainant on the status of the complaint; an appeal of the principal’s determination by the complainant must be submitted in writing to the superintendent within five school days of notification of the building principal’s determination; the next level of appeal beyond the superintendent is to the board of education and must be submitted in writing within 10 days of notification of the superintendent’s determination.

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