School district updates policies on political issues, distributing materials

Posted 8/31/21

Park County School District 1 has new guidelines for students and staff when it comes to political campaigns/activities and distributing materials.

The two revised policies recently approved by …

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School district updates policies on political issues, distributing materials

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Park County School District 1 has new guidelines for students and staff when it comes to political campaigns/activities and distributing materials.

The two revised policies recently approved by the Powell school board provide much more clarity, as the previous policies were “really general and vague,” said Superintendent Jay Curtis.

Previously, the policy on political activities consisted of three paragraphs; the newly revised version is four pages long.

Known as GBI-2, the revised policy says the school district “will maintain neutrality as to all political campaigns and issues.” It adds that the district recognizes the rights of students and employees to participate in political activities.

The school board adopted the guidelines “to protect First Amendment rights, while at the same time preserving the integrity of the education objectives and the responsibilities of the school district,” the policy says.

“I want to be really clear that we are not going to stifle discussions of our students,” Curtis said at the Aug. 10 school board meeting. “It is not just a good thing, but it is a critical piece of their education that they are taught to have very difficult conversations with one another in a civil dialogue.”

The superintendent added that “it’s the adults’ job in this world to help teach them how to do that appropriately, with respect and honoring the dignity of one another.”

While teachers help guide discussions in the classroom, the policy prohibits employees from engaging “in any political activity during the school day, during work hours, or at school activities.” That includes conversations with intent to persuade, distributing/displaying political materials, or wearing any garment/apparel that is considered political or partisan in nature.

Curtis highlighted that section of the policy during the school board meeting, calling it “the linchpin of this policy.”

“We were trying to ensure the neutrality of our teachers when approaching this,” he said.

Outside of the school day, work hours or other school-related activities, employees “shall be free to engage in political activities … and to campaign and run for political office,” the policy says.

“Employees shall not allow such political activities to interfere with the proper performance of their school duties and shall not use school time, supplies, or equipment in these activities,” it continues.

The second revised policy — known as GBI-3 — provides more clarity for students and employees handing out “non-school-sponsored materials.”

That includes flyers, petitions, posters, brochures, flags and buttons. It does not include school newspapers, yearbooks or employee newsletters.

“The school district recognizes that students and employees have the right to express themselves on school property,” the policy states.

In each school building, administors will set the reasonable time, place and manner for how materials can be distributed.

Under the policy, certain materials are always prohibited, including those that: are obscene to minors; are libelous or slanderous; advocate violence or illegal conduct; contain any indecent or vulgar language; or constitute insulting or fighting words.

Students or employees who violate either of the revised policies can face discipline.

Superintendent Curtis said he was glad the policies were before the board for final approval.

“It’s been a long road, starting clear back in May,” he said.

Chairman Trace Paul thanked Curtis for his work on the policies and said he was also glad to get feedback from the community.

“Normally on policies, I hear very little public feedback, but I’ve had several people in the community give feedback that they’ve liked the action that’s being taken on these policies,” Paul said. “I’ve heard from people in the community and one of our local legislators that they are supportive of what we’re doing with these policies.”

Prior to the board’s approval, Jo Bryant of Clark said she had read the revised policies thoroughly and was pleased with them. She also thanked Jason Sleep, the district’s assistant superintendent of teaching and learning, for meeting with a number of citizens in July.

“We just really asked some very straightforward questions about curriculum and the school district’s and the admin’s views on certain things or what’s coming down the pipe,” Bryant said. 

She said they talked about critical race theory, transgenderism and “all of these different things.”

Bryant thanked leaders for reassuring her and most of the group that the school district “is in pretty good shape.”

She asked the board what would happen if a teacher began to introduce critical race theory “under equity teaching, under diversity and inclusion teaching, bringing it in ways that people might not necessarily recognize that that’s critical race theory.”

“That was the concern, because what happens when even the state policy isn’t as fine-tuned and as conservative as Powell district 1, what then?” Bryant asked.

Chairman Paul said the board wasn’t taking questions on the policies, but thanked Bryant for her comments.

The revised policies are available online at www.pcsd1.org/Board-of-Trustees under a link marked “View Our District Policies.”

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