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IMB - Teaching about Controversial or Sensitive Issues

Book: I

Section: Instruction

Title: Teaching about Controversial or Sensitive Issues

Code: IMB

Status: Active

Adopted: November 28, 1984

Last Revised: August 22, 2007




The Portland Board of Public Education (Board) recognizes that teaching about controversial/sensitive issues is a vital element both in the development of curriculum and in classroom teaching. It further acknowledges that not all people agree on what is or is not a controversial/sensitive issue.  As a diverse community we acknowledge and affirm that our unique lived experiences and personal identities may influence whether or not we view any given issue as controversial/sensitive or not. With this in mind we want to encourage teaching about a range of issues that may be controversial/sensitive to some and to have a set of guidelines to inform our approach. 

Teaching Controversial/Sensitive Issues

  1. It is the responsibility of the schools to make provision for the study of controversial issues.
    1. The study should be done in a developmentally appropriate way.
    2. The study should be objective and scholarly in an environment that allows for multiple perspectives and ensures that the study does not cause harm.
  2. In the study of controversial issues the students have the following rights:
    1. The right to study any controversial issue that fits within the bounds of the curriculum, including advisory curriculum.
    2. The right to have free access to all relevant scholarly information;
    3. The right to form and express opinions on controversial issues without thereby jeopardizing relations with the teacher or the school; and
    4. The right to study under competent instruction in an atmosphere free from bias and prejudice from the instructor.
  3. The teacher employs methods that support meaningful curricula and a safe learning environment for all students*:
    1. The teacher cultivates a safe and supportive learning environment through community building.
    2. The teacher prepares thoroughly with attention to student identity and development, teaching contexts, subject matter, purposes and methods.  This includes the teacher actively reflecting on their own implicit biases and thinking through their own stance such as their position on the issue and the pros and cons of disclosing their views and how to ensure a safe and open learning environment for all students with a range of experiences, beliefs and perspectives.
    3. The teacher communicates proactively with students, parents and administrators on what issues will be studied.
    4. The teacher chooses resources and pedagogies that challenge assumptions, include diverse voices and perspectives and foster participation.
    5. The teacher guides discussion with tools for analyzing sources and exchanging ideas.
    6. The teacher addresses emotions by creating space for processing them, using restorative practices as needed, and developing self-awareness.
    7. The teacher employs trauma sensitive methods in the handling of controversial/sensitive issues.

*Adapted from A Framework for Reflective Practice by Jude Pace.

Adopted: November 28, 1984

Revised: August 26, 1992; August 22, 2007, January 3, 2023

IMB - Teaching About Controversial or Sensitive Issues.pdf (12 KB)


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