Palm Beach County school leaders: Inauguration not off limits to classrooms

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Palm Beach Post | by Sonja Isger | January 19, 2021

Palm Beach County public school leaders found themselves on Tuesday reiterating their support for teachers and students to tune into the presidential inauguration Wednesday after a school staffer’s notes to the contrary were shared on social media. 

The notes were a poor and inaccurate representation of the conversation Principal Ana Arce-Gonzalez had with her leadership team at South Grade Elementary in Lake Worth, the principal said.

“At no point did I say it was banned,” Arce-Gonzalez said. 

Typed notes from someone in attendance that day cover a range of topics from iReady testing to tutor scheduling. On page two, came an “Inauguration update” with the direction: “Do not stream or show anything on the day of (per district) if you want to use it for instructional purposes you can use recordings after.” 

Reflecting on the unexpected violence that erupted at the capitol this month, Arce-Gonzalez said she did discuss the inauguration. 

“In light of everything that’s happened, we have to be careful with anything that’s televised live,” she said. “One recommendation I made was we could record it.”

But it wasn’t a firm rule, Arce-Gonzalez said. And it wasn’t a directive from above either. 

“Unfortunately it’s a miscommunication,” the principal said. The notes were not published for the school wide staff and any questions about affected lesson plans should’ve come to her. 

By lunchtime Tuesday, Arce-Gonzalez had issued a staff-wide follow up to “clarify” the agenda item.

 “I would like for everyone to know that showing a live feed or televising eh inaguration (sic) has not been banned by the school district. However if you choose to televise it, just like with any inclusion of of resources to support a lesson, it needs to be properly planned for students,” she wrote. 

Deputy Superintendent Keith Oswald anticipates the events will be watched in at least some classrooms across the county.  

“This is part of our history. As appropriate to certain classes and content areas, absolutely, I would expect this (inauguration to be viewed in classes),” Oswald said Tuesday. 

Anticipating principals and teachers would have questions about the district’s policies when it comes to incorporating the transfer of presidential power into daily lessons, Oswald issued an email Friday with guidance. 

In it, Oswald quotes policy intended to ensure teachers use the opportunity in ways that are relevant to lessons and the state’s standards and not to sway students politically. Also, the class discussion must be one that allows students to make up their own minds and are not shamed or bullied for their opinions. 

The policy says, for example: 

A teacher may express his/her opinions in regard to political, social and religious values or issues provided that the total presentation is essentially balanced and fair. He/she shall not use professional interaction with students to further his/her own political aims or views or those of any other individual or group.

“It’s not atypical for us to provide guidance,” Oswald said of the memo. “In light of recent events, this was just a reminder to staff and principals. Because we know emotions are at an all-time high in our country, this was to make sure everyone is aware of our policies.  

“We never banned showing it, and we’re making contact with principals today (to reiterate that message),” Oswald said.

But he does expect teachers and administrators to discuss their plans, “just like you’d plan out any lesson,” he said. 

In his years of teaching US government and history classes, the president of the county’s teachers union said he never had the right opportunity to play an inauguration for students though he doesn’t discount the event as a learning oppportunity.

With a room full of high school seniors, Justin Katz said other content lessons seemed to take priority. 

The district’s guidelines appear appropriately to demand that incorporating the occasion requires some connection to the content you are teaching, Katz said. Also, he said he had no other reports of teachers being restricted when it came to incorporating the inauguration into lessons.    

Principal Arce-Gonzalez continues to have discussions with her staff.

“It needs to be part of the curriculum. It needs to feed into your lesson,” she said. “And we’re not going to watch it all day long.” 

She recalls plans to have students tune into one of the recent inaugurations   only for it to run hours long and beyond the school day.

After the violence this month, she also wants teachers to prepare for the unexpected. 

“Do you have the remote control? Are you going to be able to mute it? You’ve got to be careful and you’ve got to be prepared.” Not just for violence, but even just the commercials, she said recalling the first time she let her now-high school daughters watch network TV only to witness a commercial for condoms.

“Even just a bad word on TV. I always say, ‘Now that the child is exposed to it, what are you going to do next?'” 

Photo: Palm Beach County Deputy Schools Superintendent Keith Oswald speaks to Elementary students. Palm Beach Post File Photo