Political policies adopted by Fairfield school board
FAIRFIELD — The Board of Education Monday adopted two new policies — one dealing with political activities of employees, the other with student political activities.
Though timely in regards to the recent National Walk Out for gun reform, the policy discussion actually began some time ago in part due to a teacher’s involvement in the petition drive for the special Board of Selectmen election. Frank Sahagian, Jr., a Fairfield Woods social studies teacher, is one of five Democrats who eventually filed a lawsuit to force the selectmen to set a date for that special election.
Sahagian and Bob Smoller, president of the Fairfield Education Association, both urged the board to not make any such policy too prescriptive.
One section of the proposed policy stated that a teacher “shall not use professional interaction with students to further his/her own political aims or views or those of any other individual or group.”
“I would hope that would be scrapped entirely,” Sahagian said. He said he heard from a parent following the student walk out who said it was political activism and child abuse, and he was a child predator. “What this (policy) does is give this person a platform to point to as a policy,” Sahagian said.
Smoller agreed the walk out day was a good day for students to exercise their own initiatives, but added there were people who objected to the district participating in it. As written, the policy could, he said, “Be setting our district up for a lot of negative response from parents, a lot of headaches.”
But one parent, Suzanne Miska, of Rygate Road, thanked the board for the policy, “given the political involvement of the teachers union and political activity in this town.”
“As a parent,” Miska said, “I can walk into various history classes and i can pretty much gauge the political affiliation based on the political memorabilia.” She said it sets a tone, and students tell the teachers what they want to hear to get a good grade, rather than coming to their own conclusions.
“It’s a shame parents didn’t see the walk out for what it was,” Miska said. “We need to give our students the tools to formulate their own decisions.”
Board member Jennifer Maxon Kennelly, who heads the policy committee, said the new policy “was meant, in certain ways, to be a guide where there was no guidance.” She said they looked at samples from other school districts before crafting their’s.
Questions first arose over campaign activities inside and outside school buildings, Chairman Phil Dwyer said. “We heard complaints from both sides,” he said. “We had no policy to back it up.”
He said the first part of the policy speaks to that, and is valid, but he gets concerned when “you take the next step and get into the instructional side of life.”
In the end, the board agreed to remove the section on “Political materials and/or engagement as part of the instructional program” from the policy. Instead, it will become part of the administration’s regulations.