Kids, Schools, and Politics
To protect the academic integrity of our classrooms and to ensure the nonpartisan use of taxpayer dollars, schools must have policies in place that address potentially partisan issues before being faced with such issues.
A number of incidents occurred in Minnesota during the 2004 campaign cycle that highlight the importance of clear policies regarding the ethical issues of using publicly funded resources or school children to promote political causes:
- In Lakeville (ISD 194), the teachers’ union sued the district in an attempt to force the use of teachers’ mailboxes for the distribution of material endorsing John Kerry for president.
- Controversy swelled over the opportunity for high school bands in both Lakeville (ISD 194) and Robbinsdale (ISD 281) to perform during a presidential campaign visit.
- In North St. Paul-Maplewood-Oakdale (ISD 622), fliers advertising a political fundraiser for a state House candidate were sent home in the backpacks of third graders.
- Anecdotal stories of teachers expressing their political views in the classroom abounded, culminating with a letter to the editor by a seventeen-year-old student from Woodbury (ISD 833) decrying what she saw as political advocacy by teachers.
These issues are not isolated to Minnesota. Similar examples can be found across the country.
What safeguards are in place to ensure that tax dollars and children are not being used for political purposes? Research reveals that many states and local districts have strong policies in place that can serve as models for those states and districts lacking such policies.
Unfortunately, the laws in Minnesota are weaker than those in other states, and for the most part only apply to a small percentage of public employees. So that all public employees are clear about how to be responsible stewards of tax dollars, this must be addressed. With regard to local school districts, this report recommends that comprehensive policies be required that address the following issues:
- Protecting school resources from being used for political purposes.
- Protecting publicly funded technologies, such as e-mail and the Internet, from being used for political purposes.
- Protecting students from being used for political purposes.
- Protecting the classroom from political advocacy.
All fifty states were surveyed on the existence of laws, legal opinions, and guidance/rule documents covering these issues. Responses have been compiled and are available in the appendix to this report, and the appendices will be updated regularly online so that the most current information will be available.