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Let me provide you with some updated information that will help to clarify this situation. The reports of insensitive comments or actions by school personnel were shared with Maine National Guard personnel by the affected families. The families and National Guard have agreed that each family will make their own decision on how to address this issue, including whether the family will share the details of the incidents with their local school officials or with the Department of Education. At this point, the Department has not received any information on the details of these incidents from the families. If we do, please be assured that I will immediately address the situation with the appropriate local school officials.
Earlier this week, after the Department of Education had received information that insensitive comments may have occurred, I immediately communicated with all schools in Maine to reinforce with them the need: to create and maintain a supportive climate that is sensitive to all children and their families, especially in these unsettled times; to provide balanced information in classrooms and other settings; and to encourage school counselors to acknowledge the emotional and physical needs and concerns of children and families involved with the Armed Forces.
Since Maine schools have received this letter, we have not heard of any further incidents of insensitive comments or actions in our schools.
Commissioner of Education
INFORMATIONAL LETTER: 45
POLICY CODE: IHAK
TO: Superintendents of Schools and Principals
FROM: J. Duke Albanese, Commissioner
DATE: February 25, 2003
RE: Sensitivity Around Differing Opinions About Iraq and Its Impact on Children of Military Personnel
Currently, our nation is experiencing a time of great uncertainties related to U.S. relations with Iraq. People have diverse perspectives and viewpoints regarding how to best resolve this conflict and the challenges it poses at home and abroad. As a democratic society we believe in the right to discuss controversial issues and express ideas and opinions freely in a civil manner.
Recently, it has been brought to our attention that some school personnel around the State may have been less than sensitive to children of military families regarding our continued strained relations with Iraq. In some situations, parents – who are about to be deployed – have observed added stress and anxiety among their children who perceive a school staff member or their peers as being insensitive to their beliefs and the potential danger to their loved ones. Regarding instruction, most educators are being careful in their teaching about America’s response to Iraq, although some reports indicate otherwise.
These reports have been shared by parents with National Guard personnel as gatherings have been held at Family Assistance Centers around the state. Discussion of these incidents has fueled some strained feelings from affected families toward schools.
After discussions with Adjutant General and Commissioner Brigadier Joseph E. Tinkham II, I am asking you to remind school personnel that these are difficult times for our nation and that the families of military personnel need our sensitivity. As educational leaders in your community, you may receive calls, e-mail messages, or other forms of communication from people who are concerned about this issue. As you respond to the public or advise your district’s educators and other staff, I encourage you to emphasize the importance of:
Ø creating and maintaining a supportive climate that is sensitive to all children and their families in these unsettled times;
Ø providing balanced information in classrooms and other settings that present the differing perspectives of Americans regarding how our nation responds to Iraq. The content and discussion should allow for questions and differences of opinions, yet be grounded in civil discourse and mutual respect. Age and developmental appropriateness of materials are also important; and
Ø encouraging school counselors, nurses, and social workers to acknowledge the emotional and physical needs and concerns expressed by children and families involved with the Armed Services.
Ensuring the emotional and physical safety of all of Maine’s students is first and foremost on all of our minds. I appreciate your support in these unsettled times and thank you in advance for offering guidance and support for our children and parents, particularly those who are directly affected by military service to our nation.