The Oct. 9 meeting of the Rio Rancho Public Schools Board of Education lasted less than 40 minutes but provided something for its members, of which only Gary Tripp was absent, to ponder.

Five online public commenters and five in-person commenters at the meeting had plenty to say about board Policy 404 (Teaching about controversial or sensitive issues), which was referred to when the signs, including pride flags, were requested to be removed from classrooms and hallways.

Policy 404 begins with “Discussion of controversial or sensitive issues provides stimulation of intellectual curiosity and thus is an integral part of the normal classroom environment. Free inquiry in a democratic society requires that controversial or sensitive issues arising in a normal classroom situation be handled as a regular aspect of instruction and learning in such a way as not to inhibit the dignity of the teacher or the student. Neither shall discussions prevent open access to information on the part of either the teacher or the student. In the best interest of the student, the teacher, and the community, controversial issues must be handled so there is a free exchange of ideas and so all sides of such issues are explored in an impartial and objective manner. Teachers shall not use the classroom to advocate personal beliefs regarding political or sectarian issues. No materials shall be introduced into the classroom by an individual or organized group to promote a biased viewpoint on religious, racial, sexual, or political issue.” There is much more to it, and the additional content may be found online at rrps.net.

Policy 404 was originally approved in August 1994, then reaffirmed in June 2018.

Most of the comments dealt with the removal of LGBTQ signs in the secondary schools, as they were deemed “political” by administrators, whereas some teachers and students felt they reinforced safe zones for those students, who sometimes face adverse comments and even violence at times.

“Love and acceptance is (sic) not political,” said Christopher Dern, a six-year district employee who spent his K-12 years as a student in RRPS buildings and urged the board and administrators to have a different interpretation of Policy 404.

One online comment was in favor of the signs’ removal.

The board doesn’t discuss or respond to public comments at its meetings, just politely listens to the commenters, who get a maximum of three minutes each to present their concerns.

The board also:

  • Commended state Civics Bee winner Auburn Eichers, a Cyber Academy student who was at Lincoln Middle School when the spring competition took place, winning $1,000; and Mountain View Middle School student Esha Shivashankar, who won $250 for her third-place finish. Superintendent Sue Cleveland, who said she attended the state finals at the University of New Mexico, said, “They were not easy questions” the finalists faced that day.
  • Approved contracts for future mitigation needs with Belfor and Servpro, which have provided such services for RRPS in the past; and
  • Approved first readings for policies 610 (Inventories), 611 (Payment Procedures) and 612 (Audits/Financial Monitoring); those will get second readings before approval at a future meeting.

The board’s next meeting is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. Oct. 23.