On October 6, 2020, Dr. Gene Batiste, SJS Director of Community and Inclusion, and Megan Henry, Director of K-12 Academic Programs shared a message with SJS faculty and staff regarding navigating the upcoming election season. Noting this “tumultuous and highly emotional time,” their joint message addressed the importance of curriculum and community and inclusion initiatives working together in the best interest of the school community:
“As a faculty, we encourage you to be mindful of your words and actions around political engagement. Mark, Chris, the division heads, and we fully support the School’s work to create independent thinkers and embrace multiple perspectives, and yet we also know that the current, highly-charged and polarized political climate leads all that we do to be seen as partisan action. We want to invite students into conversation, but we cannot let partisan bias make any students feel defensive or shut down. It is vital that our students learn to think critically about social, economic, and political issues. Our Statement on Community & Inclusion reminds us that ‘respecting [these] differences is not enough... we ensure an environment in which everyone can feel comfortable, heard, and included… A diversity of worldviews challenges us to consider other points of view and is essential to a full education and the development of well-rounded future leaders.’“
Federal law guides non-profit institutions such as ours, and it is very clear what we can and cannot do with respect to politics. The National Association of Independent Schools states:
- Faculty can encourage students to pay attention to political news, but faculty and staff cannot comment on the actions, speeches, or policies of a particular campaign or candidate.
- No personal endorsements or support on behalf of your institution are permitted.
- Any personal endorsement must be made outside of school time and without use of school resources.
Our History, Social Studies, and Community & Inclusion Faculty Associates have been working hard since last year to articulate and implement a healthy framework for education around Election 2020. Key tenets of that approach include:
- Acknowledging that some students, but not all, are hungry to discuss the issues for the upcoming election.
- Remembering that, depending upon their age, children have greatly varied capacities to engage in political discourse beyond just repeating the words and perspectives of their parent(s).
- Choosing to focus on the structure and process of local and national government and elections.
- Engaging Upper School students in the education of our Lower and Middle School children.
- Enlisting Divisional and Counseling leadership in preparation for post-election processing, especially in a year when we likely will not have a clear outcome for all races in early November.
As you consider how Election 2020 might play a role in your homeroom, advisory, classroom, rehearsal, or team practice conversations, we encourage you to consider the following resources:
As a faculty and staff, it is critical that we ensure that all perspectives are presented and considered respectfully.
One respected colleague in independent school leadership wrote,
"Personal passion and partisan anger will run very high these next few weeks. [We] ask you to remember that each of us is a steward of [St. John’s]. Each of us has the responsibility to protect our image and reputation, and to serve our students. There are times when political leaders will do and say things that can make us all feel a sense of outrage or shock. [We] ask that we not let emotions get away from us in our work with young minds. Our students are facing enough challenges now, and we need to be protective of them. Just as we need to adjust our mindset to deal and manage COVID-19 for the long haul, we must do the same this election cycle. It is unlikely that this election will be decided quickly, and [we] expect the partisan divide to get even more intense in the weeks, and perhaps months, after November 3, 2020. [We] ask that we model resilience and respectful discourse for our students in this time, as we guide them through a significant moment in history.”