"Harassment, Bullying and Free Expression: Guidelines for Free and Safe Public Schools," is based on current laws but is not a legal document. Instead it is a policy guide rooted in the best interests of students. And because of that it can accomplish goals that many court rulings and policies from the federal Department of Education have struggled to reach. The National School Boards Association worked with 16 other education, civil rights, and legal advocacy groups, including the American Jewish Committee and the Religious Freedom Education Project/First Amendment Center, to create this guide for schools.
The guide shows how to distinguish between speech that expresses an idea, including religious or political viewpoints that may be offensive to some students or teachers, and speech that is intended or likely to cause emotional or psychological harm to another student or group. "Words that convey ideas are one thing; words that are used as assault weapons quite another," the guide notes.
This guide is a tool that will allow educators and schools not to simply outlaw certain conduct or speech or ideas, but to engage students about the importance of civil discourse, respect for the safety and rights of others, and teach the value of thoughtful discussion, particularly about very deeply held personal views and beliefs. These are the types of hands-on civics lessons that students remember and that mold our next generation into better citizens.