Schuylkill Valley school directors adopted a policy during Monday’s regular board meeting to clarify the display and removal of classroom decorations unrelated to the district’s adopted curriculum.
The adoption of policy 710.1: Signage and Decoration was approved by a 5 to 3 vote. Directors Linda Lash, Kevin Raudenbush, Nicoleen Kleffel, George H. Mertz III and G. Dane Miller voted in favor while David Moll, Alfonso Rossi and Paul Bendigo voted against.
Robert Dempsey was absent.
“We have a policy that is 20 years old. It was pre-social media for example, that’s how old it is,” said Miller, school board president, following public comments and before moving to the voting portion of the meeting. “This is something we feel we have to update and we have to give the district staff guidance on what is acceptable and what is appropriate. The key part of that is curriculum. However, there are a lot of opportunities for debate and discussion.”
Miller added that the board has taken a stand in the past against other signage and decorations including the confederate flag and MAGA items being worn in school.
Residents, including students, addressed the board during public comment to share their concerns.
Speakers mentioned not being able to view a draft of the policy prior to the vote despite requests to do so and how the enforcement of the policy would impact students in certain groups as decorations related to social issues such as Pride flags and Black Lives Matter posters have been part of discussions at past meetings in regards to classroom decorations.
Students who spoke at the meeting said seeing decorations inside their classrooms such as Pride flags or other LGBTQ+ symbols help them and others within an often-marginalized group feel the slightest bit safer in school as they feel supported by that teacher.
Lisa Jacobson, a Bern Township resident, said she felt the policy would take away the ability of educators to show such support and shared a study which highlighted the positive impact on LGBTQ+ youth when they have at least on supportive adult in their lives including a teacher or counselor.
Jacobson added that she believed political purposes and political activities were being overgeneralized to include social movements in the policy.
Kai Miller, an Ontelaunee Township resident, said removing such decorations in the classroom would remove opportunities for students to observe and engage in different perspectives.
She also asked directors if they were confident they understood how the policy will be enforced and questioned the transparency and urgency in voting on the policy that night.
Raudenbush clarified with the district’s solicitor that the policy and decision to vote on the policy during the meeting were not rushed since discussions began several months ago and have continued as different issues have been identified.
Moll read the policy aloud prior to the vote.
According to the policy, the board adopted the policy to “clarify situations in which an employee’s classroom decoration or signage may vary from the district’s specifically adopted curriculum. Signage, photographs, decorations and any other item displayed in or on school district property or buildings including, but not limited to, classroom walls must comply with all board policies and procedures, and those that are not curriculum-related to the respective classroom are subject to removal at the administration’s discretion.”
The building principal is responsible for the initial determination of a display and its possible removal. Under the policy, an appeal may be made to the superintendent, whose decision is then final.
It was not clear during the meeting if the displays mentioned during public comment would be appropriate or inappropriate in the classroom.
When asked about the policy and its enforcement after the meeting, Dr. Janet Heilman, superintendent, said the policy reaffirms the district’s authority to make such determinations and sets a procedural path which includes allowing appeals.
“(It) establishes that each issue will be evaluated individually and in the context in which it arises,” Heilman said in an email. “No universal prohibitions are created and what may be appropriate for one classroom or location may not be appropriate for another. Relationship to the curriculum is the primary guideline, but the district believes that any item in question deserves its own contextual review and individualized determination.”
Source: Berkshire mont