Constituent policy

Stafford School Board discusses classroom decorating policy

The Stafford County School Board on Tuesday discussed proposed revisions to the employee code of conduct that sets the parameters for classroom decor.

“Displaying decor deemed controversial in a mandatory classroom is prohibited,” the proposed revisions state. “Controversial refers to a setting that elicits substantial differences of opinion locally, nationally, or internationally, which are accompanied by intense feelings and strong emotions on the part of individuals or groups.”

The revisions were first suggested in September by school board member Alyssa Halstead, who chairs the board’s governance committee. The governance committee approved the revisions last month and the revisions were on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting to be approved by the full board as part of the consent agenda, but were moved for discussion on a motion by Board Member Maya Guy.

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Several teachers and students who spoke during the public comments said they saw the revisions as targeting pride flags and other displays of support for the LGBTQ+ community.

Guy said during the discussion that existing policies already give individual principals the power to manage classroom decor which is seen as controversial.

“I just don’t see a real need for it,” she said. “I believe that there are people who have disputed [with classroom décor] and I think [Superintendent Thomas] taylor said [at the governance committee meeting] that being uncomfortable is part of the learning process. We cannot protect students from everything.

School board member Elizabeth Warner said she thought the revisions were “vague and heavy-handed” and could negatively impact teacher recruitment and retention.

“I don’t want to burden our teachers or make them feel like we’re looking over their shoulders because we don’t trust them,” she said. “Instead of a settlement, we need more conversations. We can teach our students how to respond and stand up for their beliefs and be respectful of others.

Halstead discussed the proposed revisions at length during the meeting.

She said the proposed revisions came not from her, but from her constituents.

“I never wanted it to go the way it was written,” she said. “It was requested by a large part of our population that we all represent, and we have an obligation and a duty to come up with something that represents that.”

Responding to concerns that defining what is controversial is too subjective, Halstead said, “Why do we now have a problem identifying what is controversial?”

“It wasn’t hard to decide what was controversial when we took down the thin blue line flag, or when the ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag was taken down, or the MAGA shirts came off,” said she declared.

The board decided to continue discussing the proposed revisions at a later date.

Halstead said she was looking forward to “[moving] our discussion to a place where we can discuss it with all of our constituents together and find a happy median that works for everyone.

“That has always been my goal,” she added.