WINDHAM/RAYMOND — After a parent complained about the use of CNN programming geared toward students in middle school classrooms, the RSU 14 School Board recently introduced a policy on Teaching about Sensitive/Controversial Issues.

The board gave preliminary approval to the policy Sept. 18 that is meant to “to promote the fair, appropriate and unbiased consideration of controversial issues in the instructional setting.” Final approval is expected at the board’s Oct. 2 meeting. 

David Pierson, a University of Southern Maine professor of media studies and chairman of the communication and media studies department, said the proposed policy was reasonable. However, he questioned a stipulation that “Students or their parents/legal guardians who object to particular topics based on their particular, sincerely held religious, moral, or philosophical beliefs may request an accommodation.”

“This seems to limit the freedom of teachers to bring in topics, such as the Black Lives Matter or #MeToo movements, into the classroom, which are relevant topics in our society,” Pierson said. “I think teachers should have that flexibility in the classroom, especially if they adhere” to the policy’s principles.

Windham resident Ken Clark complained in March about teachers showing clips from CNN10 — a digital news show meant for classroom use — without also showing news clips from a site with a differing viewpoint. At an Aug. 21 School Board meeting, Clark said, “I felt it should be balanced. I do not have an issue with my child watching CNN. They should have equal time to watch Fox News so they can be informed of a news source that reflects conservative values.”

Then-Superintendent Sandy Prince created a committee to evaluate the use of CNN10, and the resulting report, submitted on April 24, stated that the site could be used.

Clark appealed the decision, and the School Board voted Sept. 18 to temporarily halt the use of CNN10 — which is used by 38% of RSU 14 middle school teachers — to make time to “see if there were other ways that we could bring forth a different point of view,” said School Board Chairwoman Janis Cummings. 

The new policy stipulates, in part, that, when discussing controversial issues, “The educator must be knowledgeable about the issue and serve as a facilitator to ensure that points of view are presented in a civil manner.”

In addition, “Students shall be given the opportunity to understand different/opposing sides of an issue and to use classroom discussions to formulate their own views.”

Superintendent Chris Howell said that the policy will not change curricula by, for example, requiring that both CNN and Fox News be used in classrooms. Rather, it serves as “a good reminder to all of us that when we are teaching in a classroom that we try our best to provide as many views on a particular subject as possible.”

Policy Committee Chairwoman and School Board member Kate Brix said while there may be no “tangible” effects of the policy, it “assists in giving clarity to talking and teaching about controversial and sensitive issues.”

Brix described the policy as “almost philosophical” and could not point to any specific impacts it would have, saying it “helps support our current practice.”

I feel like they’re sometimes trying to justify what they’re doing,” Clark said in an interview this week. “At the last meeting, I felt like I was being placated. This is important to me and to a lot of other people.”

He feels that CNN “promotes liberalism and socialism” and asked, “How can they educate students by only showing them one end of the spectrum?” 

Clark said he had not seen the proposed policy.

Howell said there is a limit to the viewpoints that can be expressed in a classroom, and comments about a protected class, such as sexual orientation or ethnicity, as well as hurtful or racist speech will not be tolerated.

We’re in a polarized time, and things that may seem controversial to you may not be to me,” he said. “Good instruction is about giving kids opportunities to form their own viewpoints.”

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