An open discussion
Schools should be a safe haven for children – providing a warm and engaging environment where students can learn, grow and fulfill their potential.
While Niles Community Schools is committed to shielding children from harm, the District’s Board of Education and administration believe complex and challenging issues, such as racism, should be explored as part of a full instructional program. It is through open discussion surrounding such issues that children, and adults, can further their personal growth and indeed, learn from the past.
Properly introduced, these issues can help students fully and fairly understand history, weigh carefully the values involved, and develop informed positions to make for a better future. This is the primary reason that Policy 2240 – focusing on the consideration of controversial issues – was created and included in the district handbook years ago.
We recognize that a course of study or certain instructional materials may contain content and/or activities that some find objectionable. If after careful, personal review of the program lessons and/or materials, a parent indicates to the school that content or activities conflict with his or her beliefs or values, the school will honor a written request for his or her child to be excused from particular classes for specified reasons.
We realize that this step was not followed during the recent class skit — performed by a few Niles High School students — covering the atrocities of the KKK. Thus, we have reinforced such policies with our entire staff to prevent a similar occurrence in the future.
Since the Board and administration became aware of the classroom skit, our primary concern has been for the students within that class and how they were processing what they saw and heard. To that end, we recently welcomed Pastor Bryant Bacon, an advocate for positive community relations and a leader of the Mount Calvary Baptist Church, and Nancy Studebaker, a prominent member of the community and the Director of Niles District Library, to visit the Niles High School class for an open and informative discussion on the importance of challenging issues in education and how to effectively hold and encourage conversations on controversial topics.
I personally led the discussion among students and was very impressed with the engagement and respect they showed for the topic and our community leaders. We are grateful to Pastor Bacon and Ms. Studebaker for their commitment to the children of Niles and for the powerful insight they brought to the discussion.
Issues that evoke strong and passionate emotion will always present challenges to schools. However, an open exploration of such issues is essential to the continued growth of our students. As a result, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to thoughtful and appropriate inclusion of this material in our classrooms.
Dr. Dan Applegate is Superintendent at Niles Community Schools
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