Clearing the political gray area
District leaders urge caution when sharing opinions
February 27, 2017
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Among a politically-charged environment as a result of November’s election and acts of vandalism with racist symbols, both Roseville Secondary Education Association president Brandon Dell’Orto and Roseville Joint Union High School District superintendent Ron Severson have sent district-wide emails reminding staff to use caution when sharing political and personal beliefs.
Dell’Orto’s email, sent to all district teachers, came a week after the November election. It specifically cited division that had arisen at Oakmont High School in response to a teacher handing out safety pins in what was presented as a show of support for minorities. Other staff on campus, however, interpreted it as a protest against the president-elect at the time. The email cautioned teachers against using their influence in the classroom to sway political opinion.
Severson sent his email to every employee in the district last Wednesday. In it, he cited recent acts of “hatred, bigotry, bullying and belittling” as a reason to revisit the district’s core values and mission.
Neither specifically stated actions that could be taken against staff for sharing or promoting their views, but instead implored teacher and staff to think of what is best in the best interest of the students and to consider the leverage adults have in school environments.
California Education Code nor RJUHSD board policy specifically and clearly states the degree to which teachers can share or push their political beliefs. Administrative Regulation 4119.25, which deals with political activities by employees, is almost entirely dedicated to the prevention of employees from campaigning for themselves in an election during school time or with school supplies. However, it only mentions that teachers cannot push political agendas and wear buttons prior to an election. It does not outline rules regarding political commentary outside of election seasons.
Severson believes that teachers need be careful with sarcasm about politically sensitive issues, but does believe that some classes, for instance social science classes, provide a forum to discuss politics.
“Everyday, there are issues in the news that would be really interesting and provocative to discuss with students; that’s where it’s totally appropriate,” Severson said. “If I was teaching math, it would probably not be a good time to spend half the period talking politics. There are a lot of things going around in social science to talk about.”
Roseville High School’s RSEA representative Jessica Fork believes that sensitivity is important to consider when politics are discussed in the classroom.
“It’s been taught to not to discuss politics in the classroom,” Fork said.
She advises teachers to keep conversations “neutral and to try to show both sides to the story and keep a balanced perspective and not go on tirades.”
AP Lang teacher Scott Brink sees the relationship between teaching and politics, but feels that teachers shouldn’t try to sway opinions.
“There’s some sort of relationship between [teachers] and [students], and I don’t think it’s right necessarily for a teacher to perhaps uses their position over a student to impart their own personal opinion on that student.” Brink said. “I think it’s okay to engage in a discussion about these issues, ‘cause [everyone] has their own opinion as long as there’s a civil conversation.”
Junior Elpidio Aguilar has gone through experiences where a teacher made disrespectful comments in class while showing a livestream of Trump’s inauguration speech.
“During my priority period we watched Trump’s inauguration. Everyone had the same view [and] my teacher was talking about how she didn’t like him and shaking her head at some of the things he said during his inauguration, but it didn’t really affect anyone since most of us had the same views,” Aguilar said.
Government teacher Dana Dooley sees the use for talking about politics in her class, but can also teach about it without discussing current politicians or policies.
“When studying Government in the school format, we’re looking at the other side of it where it’s not so much the butt that occupies the seat, but what power vested in the seat,” Dooley said.