For One Wisconsin District, Politics in the Classroom is Out

School boards and administrators experience mounting pressure
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Kettle Moraine School District draws a line in the sand on partisan politics in the classroom.

In matters of race and gender, public schools have become a battleground for culture wars in America, and the general public has taken notice. 

Recent polling of voters in seven key swing states done by the American Federation of Teachers shows 81% of those surveyed believed the politicization of education was either a “very big problem” or a “fairly big problem.” The poll also shows that people are divided on who they believe is at fault for the politicization of education, with 33% blaming democrats, 28% blaming republicans, and 36% responding that the parties are equally responsible.

In this politicized environment, school boards and administrations are feeling pressure to respond in a way which satisfies groups who wish to keep both liberal and conservative politics out of the classroom. 

Responding to this pressure, Superintendent Ken Plum of the Kettle Moraine School District in Wisconsin announced on July 26th at a school board meeting that an existing policy which prohibits school staff from promoting their personal beliefs, including political and religious beliefs, will moving forward, be interpreted to mean that no teachers or administrators will be allowed to display political or religious messages in their classrooms or on their person. 

This interpretation of the policy effectively bans the display of classroom mainstays such as Pride flags, Black Lives Matter messaging, and the common practice of including pronouns in email signatures. Lost in much of the response is the ban on more conservative messaging as well, such as We Back the Badge signs.

The policy has received backlash, particularly for what is being interpreted as anti-LGBT messaging. Perhaps predictably, the media response has largely focused on that aspect, painting the decision as a political move on the part of the school rather than the depoliticizing of the classroom as the superintendent asserts. 

Multiple articles have been published with inflammatory headlines focused solely on certain aspects of the policy, as evidenced here and here, ignoring the district’s attempt to limit pro-conservative sentiments as well, burying this information further in the article or omitting it altogether.

As a reaction to the media coverage of the policy, there has been an outpouring of sentiment on social media, largely calling out the school district for what is being perceived as a bigoted policy meant to bring LGBT youths “harm.”

A campaign has also been started which attempts to tie the board decision to a wider conspiracy to push conservative ideology in the classroom. The campaign informs people what to do via a document which includes a form email to send to the board, talking points, school board member information, and directions for how to take political action. 

In addition to local political pressure on the school board, one social media user has solicited a response from national organization The Trevor Project, who has written a letter in an attempt to get the policy changed. 

As of this writing, the school district has not responded to criticism. How this plays out could have an effect on how other school districts attempt to navigate the political waters moving forward. If they capitulate to the pressure from outside groups, it could send a signal to other school boards and administrations that the politicized nature of the classroom is not to be questioned. 

Jason Anger
Jason Anger is an educator from Wisconsin, a father, and a part-time bartender. He is a regular contributor to Chalkboard Review, where he is also a fellow and member of the social media team. He has been published in Chalkboard Review, City Journal and National Review.

The views expressed in this article are the opinion of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Chalkboard Review team.

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