NEW YORK – As kids prepare to head back to class, schools are grappling with how to teach a new chapter in history: the Sept. 11 attacks, the resulting war and a myriad of underlying issues.
And as the country readies itself for the one-year commemoration of the attacks, there is already controversy brewing: A lawsuit has been filed against a California public school system, reflecting the country's sensitivity to how and what lessons are taught.
A variety of resources have been developed to help guide teachers through this sensitive curriculum.
"We’re developing an online resource center for teachers," said John See, spokesman for the American Federation of Teachers. The site links teachers and parents to various lesson plans and advice for how to commemorate the day, and how to prepare for questions and emotions that will likely arise.
"We have 1.2 million members, many of whom will be meeting a new classroom of kids," said See. "Then all of the sudden, a week or two into the school year, will be this huge anniversary."
Lois Backon, of the Families and Work Institute, helped develop "9/11 as History," a resource and program to help parents, educators and students address Sept. 11. Educators can download 16 free lesson plans, tied to national standards, from the institute's Web site.
See said he is confident teachers will handle teaching about this recent history well. "Teachers are patriotic but sophisticated in the way they think about things," he said.
"Teachers know best how to talk to kids," said See. "I used to teach, and any time there’s another resource, you are grateful."
But not everyone is pleased.
"It seems that public educators have lost their common sense, surrendered it to what is politically correct at this time," said Richard Thompson, executive director and chief counsel for the center of the Thomas More Center for Law and Justice.
Thompson has filed a lawsuit against the Byron Union School District in Byron, Calif., on behalf of two families who object to the way the curriculum addresses Islam.
As part of that program, students were "indoctrinated" into the Muslim faith and had to choose a Muslim name, dress in Muslim clothing and simulate the holy month of Ramadan by giving up their lunch one day.
"This particular simulation activity occurred after Sept. 11 and caused some parents to be very upset," said Thompson. "Those who had loved ones serving in Afghanistan were particularly upset at the very time there were teachers in the public school system in effect promoting the religion of Islam," he said.
"They even played a dice game called 'jihad' that they thought was fun. But we were looking at it as a way of desensitizing seventh graders to what that word really means in real-life America today," he said.
Thompson said Byron and many other California schools have tried to celebrate diversity since Sept. 11, but have been overcompensating and trying to be too politically correct.
"If you want your religion taught in the public school system, take a couple of planes, crash them into some buildings and right away public schools will teach your religion so we can understand it," he said.
Byron schools may be under fire, but the AFT and Families and Work Institute say they offer fair and balanced resources to help educators handle Sept. 11 and the variety of issues that will come up in the classroom.
"I don’t think we took a pro-American stance," Backon said. "We never come across in any of our lesson plans saying 'we are right' or that 'we are wrong.’ We're careful to not be ultra-patriotic in any of the lesson plans."
Instead, Backon said, they lean more toward teaching about diversity, tolerance and civil liberties and posing lots of questions.
But the ultimate lesson of that fateful day's events won't be decided in a courtroom or a textbook, but in the minds of those learning.
"We have to give some credit to our children … you should not sugarcoat it," said Thompson. "Tell the facts."