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How Do Wilton Schools Tackle Controversial Issues?

WILTON, Conn. – Making sure that classroom discussions are respectful is an important aspect of the Wilton school district.

The Board of Education discussed a change in policy Thursday night regarding the way controversial issues are discussed in classrooms. The policy described a controversial issue as one that involves “a problem about which different individuals and groups urge conflicting courses of action.”

The “Controversial Issues in the Curriculum” section of school policy is a way for teachers to challenge the students “to look at an issue that requires critical analysis and then to ultimately make independent judgments,” said Assistant Superintendent Tim Canty.

“We’re trying develop in [the students] skills to identify their values in order to make decisions in their lives,” said Superintendent Gary Richards.

Part of the change in the policy involved removing specific language regarding AIDS, which was written into the policy in the 1980s Canty said. “I think the policy needs to be broader in that there are other sensitive topics.”

If the policy kept the specific language on AIDS, Canty felt other issues would then require a specific policy.

“I went though it trying to apply some of it to current controversial topics against this trying to play devil’s advocate and I found this very relevant and it sort of covered everything I thought it wouldn’t,” board member Christine Finkelstein said.

Ultimately, much of the concern from board members wasn’t on the intention of the policy but on word choice. The board debated the new sentence: “Controversial issues are those subjects about which there are significant differences of opinion based on differing values people bring to an issue.”

It’s the word “values” in that sentence that caught the board members. Board secretary Karen Birck suggested using the phrase “points of view” instead, mainly because “points of view” aren’t necessarily related to a person’s values.

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