Riverhead School District

Second time around, Riverhead school board approves policy update for ‘Teaching About Controversial Issues’

The Riverhead Board of Education approved revisions to a policy titled “Teaching About Controversial Issues” at Tuesday’s meeting after it previously failed to gain approval last month.

Only four board members were present at the Sept. 13 meeting when the board last voted on it. Three members voted in favor and board member Christopher Dorr voted against it. Without at least four votes, the measure did not pass.

At Tuesday’s meeting, the policy was change was approved by a 4-1 vote with board member Therese Zuhoski casting the lone opposing vote. Mr. Dorr and Colin Palmer were both absent.

The policy was first adopted in 2005 and its last revision was in 2012. According to the draft that was adopted, “The goal is for students to learn to disagree respectfully and discuss and examine issues rationally, objectively and thoroughly, to enable students to draw informed conclusions and function productively and with civility in our democratic society.”

The draft lists guidelines for teachers to follow when presenting controversial issues. Part of the revision clarified that matters of controversial nature “are permitted” rather than earlier language that said “such issues shall be neither sought nor avoided.”

It added additional guidelines for teachers, specifying that “grading is based on objective criteria” and that the discussion be conducted “in a manner that takes into account students’ age and development level.”

At an August meeting, Superintendent Augustine Tornatore said the policy committee members had reviewed the document with him and with William Galati, executive director of secondary education, grants and student outcomes. He also said the committee followed guidance from New York State School Boards Association when making the policy.

Other policies that are being revised and will be voted on in coming meetings by the board include: the code of conduct, student harassment and bullying prevention and Intervention, academic intervention services, eligibility for co-curricular and extra curricular activities and more. All the policies and their latest drafts are available on the district website.