In today’s highly charged political environment, government schools theoretically should be bastions of political non-partisanship. In Albemarle County, as in most Virginia school divisions, there are policies in place to prevent political indoctrination of students. Yet once again, Albemarle County’s enacted guidelines have failed to assuage concerned parents and protect vulnerable children from blatant political propagandism.
Agnor-Hurt Elementary School, under the governance of Principal Michele Del Gallo Castner, has posted what could be construed as a Barack Obama campaign poster at the entrance of the school’s library.
The highly stylized placard bears striking resemblance to the famous Obama “Hope” poster, and features:
- President Barack Obama’s posterized likeness
- The President’s signature
- The President’s name, campaign logo and inauguration date
- The Obama Re-Election Campaign’s official web site, www.BarackObama.com
Students visiting the referenced web site will see a picture of the president, a video link in which the president announces his support for “same-sex” marriage, and the following quote:
“Same-sex couples should be able to get married.” —Barack Obama
Site visitors (under this circumstance, presumably students) are then encouraged to “stand up with the president” by submitting their email and zip code information.
The Albemarle County School Board accepts training for effective citizenship as one of the major purposes of education. This includes, in part, recognizing that many important areas of study involve issues on which differing positions are held by individuals or groups.
In considering such issues, it shall be the purpose of the Albemarle County Public Schools to allow the student to do the following:
- Study any controversial issue which has political, economic, or social significance and which is within the range, knowledge, maturity and competence of the students, and which does not conflict with State Board of Education regulations and the Albemarle County School Board Policies and regulations.
- Provide resources containing a wide range of views on controversial issues so that students may develop the practice of critical reading and thinking.
- Study under competent instruction in an atmosphere of freedom from bias and prejudice.
- Form and express opinions on controversial issues without jeopardizing his position with the school.
The role of the teacher in the presentation of controversial issues is vitally important. All sides of the issue should be given the students in a balanced manner. The goal is for the students to be taught to think clearly on all matters of importance, and to make their own decisions in the light of all the material that has been presented or can be secured on the issues. Indoctrination is not a policy of the Albemarle County Public Schools.
Although the instructional program of the school division includes many facets of the political party system in the United States, the School Board does not sanction as a part of the school program the involvement of students in activities that imply school endorsement of an individual political party or candidate. Individual class assignments and volunteer work involving students in political activities are permissible. [emphasis added]
In contrast to the division’s written policy on indoctrination, the overt display of Obama campaign-oriented material at the school’s library entrance in the main hallway may indicate that:
- A “wide range of views” is not presented obviously at Agnor-Hurt Elementary
- Agnor-Hurt Elementary’s “atmosphere” does not appear to be free from “bias”
- “All sides of the issue” are not presented to the students in a “balanced manner” at Agnor-Hurt Elementary
- Political “indoctrination” does seem to be the policy at Agnor-Hurt Elementary
- Agnor-Hurt Elementary appears to be endorsing a political party (Democrat) and their presidential candidate (Barack Obama)
In the midst of a United States presidential election campaign, Albemarle County Schools Administration, the Albemarle County School Board, and Agnor-Hurt Principal Castner should endeavor for strict compliance with the division’s own written policies regarding political indoctrination of students. While the posting of a formal portrait of the United States chief executive in government schools may be considered acceptable if done consistently, the one-sided display of a campaign-type poster along with a link to a campaign web site which promotes a controversial social policy, has no place in a taxpayer-funded American elementary school.
UPDATE 5/17/2012 9:49 AM: Controversial Obama poster now removed and replaced with appropriate portrait of the president, per Principal Castner.
View pictures of Agnor-Hurt Elementary and the President Barack Obama poster: