Beaverton School District releases political & social guidelines
With an intense political climate, ongoing protests and virtual learning for the foreseeable future, the Beaverton School District is instituting a set of guidelines for staff regarding social and political expression.
On Wednesday, Sept. 30, the district posted a summary of the guidance on its Facebook page with a link to more information. The guidelines say staff can display Pride-related and Black Lives Matter-branded signs or flags, whether physically or virtually.
District employees can also wear clothing or buttons on them physically or on their personal virtual avatars — such as on Facebook — supporting those causes.
"The superintendent put out a couple of messages over the summer regarding social justice, and the definitive statement of 'Black Lives Matter,'" said David Williams, the Beaverton School District's executive administrator for strategic initiatives, "trying to identify that our students of color, who've been historically underserved in this district and districts all over the country, matter in Beaverton."
With the November general election just weeks away, the district also made clear what is allowed and not allowed during this political climate.
The guidelines say that staff can wear clothing or buttons on them physically or on their personal virtual avatars that endorse particular political candidates or parties or display a campaign slogan, per Oregon administrative rules, which list restrictions on political campaigning by public employees.
As for classrooms or workspaces, whether physical or virtual, district employees cannot display campaign posters or signs endorsing candidates or parties.
Williams says this notion is not new.
"In a normal (pollical) climate, people understood that, but in a remote learning environment, we started get questions about what banners are allowed on social avatars and various virtual spaces," he added.
Other forms of personal expression in classrooms may potentially be allowed by the district if they don't create a substantial disruption to the educational environment.
According to the school district, staff can also make posts on personal social media accounts and comments on other social media accounts that represent their own views and opinions. Those posts and comments must be made during non-work hours.
As for what else not allowed, staff cannot display symbols or images of a swastika, noose or Confederate flag, per the State Board of Education's administrative rule, "All Students Belong." Those and other symbols of white supremacy or hate are prohibited by the school district.
The guidelines also say that staff cannot wear or display slogans that support or encourage exclusion, such as "Build the Wall." That phrase has been used by President Donald Trump in the past in reference to stopping illegal immigration from Mexico by constructing a wall along the United States' southern border.
This stance and other controversial statements by the president have been broadly viewed as discriminatory toward Mexicans, Muslims and other communities.
As for phrases such as "All Lives Matter" and "Blue Lives Matter," Williams says those statements are not endorsed by the district, although it does not expressly prohibit them in the guidelines.
"We would ask staff not to display such paraphernalia," Williams said.
He added, "(Blue Lives Matter) is not a statement that we express," Williams said. "Unfortunately, it can be often viewed by our students of color as a repudiation of the inclusive message of Black Lives Matter."
Williams hopes the guidelines can answer questions from staff, community leaders, and students about appropriate forms of expression.
"(Find) ways that we can be an anti-racist school district going forward as well," Williams added. "This isn't a one-off thing. This is in the context of a long line of discussions and movements the district has undertaken."
According to the district's website, an "anti-racist school district" is described as "providing a culturally relevant, responsive and inclusive environment for all students, especially our most marginalized."
In the coming weeks, district officials plan on engaging this work at every grade level, starting with kindergarten through second-grade students. They will be introduced to the concepts of identity, diversity, race and racism in an "age-appropriate" curriculum aligned with the Oregon K-12 social sciences academic content standards, K-5 social studies essential questions and Oregon ethnic studies standards.
"This work continues in social studies classes at the upper grades, as we foster important conversations and create safe spaces for students to make sense of the world around them," the Beaverton School District states on its website. "For example, we're living through one of the largest social movements in the history of our nation. To not allow students to discuss what they're seeing in the Black Lives Matter and related social movements — as well as the various responses to those movements — would be a lost opportunity to engage in real-time, authentic learning."
The Beaverton School District's guidelines on social and political expression are subject to change, but Williams doesn't see that happening anytime soon.
For those in violation of the rules, Williams suggests for other employees and families to first bring up the issue with the specific staff member, then with the principal, and lastly with the district's human resources department.
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