A Bluffton school board has started the process of creating policies regarding controversial content after parental complaints of a pride flag hanging in an eighth grade classroom.
The Bluffton-Harrison Metropolitan School District board met in a special meeting that lasted more than two hours Tuesday.
More than half of that time used to allow some of the estimated 350 people who attended to share their opinions. Public comment was initially limited to 30 minutes before the board extended it, and each speaker was limited to three minutes. Superintendent Brad Yates said the board received a combination of supportive, opposing and neutral comments.
Bev Balash, a science teacher at Bluffton-Harrison Middle School, spoke openly about the LGBTQ+ pride flag hanging in her classroom and said it lets students know that her classroom is a safe space. She asked the board to let her keep the flag in place.
Creating policies about controversial issues and classroom postings is new to Bluffton-Harrison, but it is something other school districts have done. Yates said the board looked at other school districts’ policies on the topic, as well as existing policies in the staff handbook.
The board first approved a resolution regarding respect and inclusion of all students. The controversial issues policy, which includes criteria for teachers to follow when discussing controversial topics in class, was passed unanimously on first reading.
The classroom postings policy saw opposition from board President Julie Thompson and board Vice President Bruce Holland, who said they didn’t support the policy as presented, Yates said. With a 3-2 vote, it was also approved on first reading.
“First reading essentially signals to our community that we are starting the policy making process,” Yates said.
The drafted policy states classroom postings can’t contain “materials, such as political or religious material, that is unrelated to the curriculum and instruction goals of the courses of study conducted in that classroom.”
The policies will likely be on the agenda for the board’s next meeting Sept. 13, but that depends on if revisions are made, Yates said. The board has options on how to proceed.
Once revisions are made, the board can approve the policies on second reading, or request the policies be taken back to a first reading.
The board could also decide to bring the policies back for discussion at a regularly scheduled or special meeting.