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Sioux City School Board makes changes to freedom of expression policy

Sioux City School Board makes changes to freedom of expression policy


SIOUX CITY | Some speech by Sioux City public school students would be prohibited under a measure that received final approval Monday from the school board.

A revision to the district's Freedom of Expression policy adds marital status, physical attributes and political beliefs to the list of prohibited speech that would constitute harassment.

Board member David Gleiser said the policy was broadened to maintain a sound atmosphere where students can learn. He noted it states "that any potential audience is not exposed to speech (or other forms of expression) that may be harmful to their level of maturity."

Gleiser said the modification was recommended statewide by the Iowa Association of School Boards. Students should be able to share protected free speech on controversial issues without feeling "fearful of retribution or retaliation" in hallways, he said.

"It is timely, because there is a lot of protest things happening," Gleiser said.

As an example, he cited then-Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump's October 2015 rally at West High School. While some students supported Trump's visit, others protested and petitioned the district to rescind the invitation to the brash New York businessman. Gleiser noted conversations about politics can quickly turn heated.

The district's Freedom of Expression policy, first adopted in 1994, was last changed in 2013.

The district prohibits any expression that is obscene, indecent or vulgar, is libelous or slanderous, endangers the health or safety of another person, constitutes "fighting words," which invite retaliation or violence, and constitute bullying or harassment based on a number of attributes. Marital status, physical attributes and political beliefs were added to the list, which also includes race, creed, color, sexual orientation, gender identity, national origin, religion, age, disability, socioeconomic status and military status.

The latest changes followed a process involving a policy committee of two administrators and three school board members, including Gleiser, Jeremy Saint and Perla Alarcon-Flory.

The board unanimously gave the revised policy final approval Monday.

In addition, the board also revised the district's Teaching Controversial Issues polices. One portion changed the policy from addressing pupils to students, and one passage said students have a right to "study under competent instruction in an atmosphere free from bias and prejudice." The wording change in that sentence was from "of freedom" to "free."

The revised policy states there is value in teaching effective citizenship to teach controversial issues.


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