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LPOSD discusses new policies, parental rights

by EMILY BONSANT
Staff Writer | January 20, 2022 1:00 AM

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PONDERAY — New policies on controversial issues, academic freedom and parental rights went before the Lake Pend Oreille School board for their first reading Jan. 11.

The controversial issues and academic freedom policy outlines the district’s values that employees and students are to respect the dignity of others and acknowledges the right of others to express differing opinions and foster and defend intellectual honesty. This also included freedom of inquiry and instructions as well as speech and associated rights appropriate to the educational setting, district officials said in outlining the new policy

In alignment with the full policy, Superintendent Tom Albertson said teachers are not to and never should indoctrinate students into one way of thinking.

“With all our instructors we have to always teach balance not to indoctrinate and not to teach just one side of an issue,” said Albertson.

He said instructors are to teach with neutrality with any controversial topic.

“The gray area is what is a controversial topic,” he said. “When in doubt we let the parents know and let the parents make that decision of whether that would be a controversial topic.”

This policy excludes sex education because that is its own entity where parents can opt out their students, said Albertson. The change in policy makes sure it matches the language that is in the new Idaho Code 33138.

The superintendent advised parents to have conversations with their own students about what they are learning and then talk to their teacher before running it up the chain of command. He said he found most things were resolved with the dialogue between the parent and teacher.

Albertson said it is important to teach history and know its facts, but in his 35 years of education he had yet to see a lesson taught in the district where a student has been made to feel responsible for “something that somebody may view is not the most colorful part of our history,” he said.

Another new policy, this one on parental rights, also was in its first reading. A policy addressing the issues has been asked for by several parents over the past few months at Lake Pend Oreille School District board meetings.

Albertson said that a lot of the rights listed in the policy are not new to LPOSD, but are now listed in one place in order to make it easier for residents to find and understand. The revision is an effort to show that district officials are listening to stakeholders, he said.

Among the rights outlined in the policy are that parents and guardians have the right to reasonable academic accommodations within reason; they may object to a child’s participation in the district-adopted curriculum or implementation on the basis that it harms the child or impairs the parent’s firmly held beliefs, values or principles; and they are entitled to review all learning materials, instructional materials and other teaching aids used in the classroom of their student.

New Idaho Code 321014 states that at not time shall the existence of any order, proclamation or declaration insured pursuant to chapter six [which concerns martial law and active duty] or chapter 10 [state disaster preparedness] of Idaho Code be considered essential to further a compelling government interest to justify forced medication on a child, forced removal of a child from a home or violation of or interference with parents fundamental and established rights protected by the Idaho parents rights act.

Trustee Jalon Peters asked for clarification to ensure the new code protected parental rights from any proclamations or declarations that could come from chapters of Idaho Code pertaining to martial law and state disaster preparedness.

Chairwoman Geraldine Lewis said she believed the code states that at no time do these three basic rights get overturned even by those two chapters. She asked for Albertson to clarify the issue at the next reading.

Lewis also wanted public input on parental rights.

“It is helpful to have parents look over what we are saying their rights are,” Peters said.

Albertson cautioned the board that public input could be helpful, but the board must follow Idaho Code. If parents suggest anything that goes against the code then there would be the process of contacting representatives and senators to make changes with the Idaho Code.

Trustee Tonya Sherman said the policy was well written and having all the reference to Idaho Code was more than helpful. She said she would love to see the board to have more public comment on the matter.

“A policy involving parental rights should be bound to have public input,” trustee Purley Decker said.