After complaints that the children of soldiers were upset by anti-war comments at school, Maine's top education official warned teachers to be careful of what they say in class about a possible invasion of Iraq.
The Maine Army National Guard has received a dozen reports of children of guard members in elementary and middle schools who said teachers and fellow students have criticized the looming conflict.
Maj. Peter Rogers quoted parents as saying their children have come home upset or depressed because of comments in class and on the playground.
"They were hearing comments like, 'The pending war in Iraq is unethical' and 'Anybody who would fight that war is also unethical,'" Rogers said. "So children who are already losing family members to deployment were understandably upset."
Charles Haynes of the Freedom Forum, an educational organization in Arlington, Va., said he has received several dozen e-mails and phone calls in recent months from parents concerned that teachers are unfair or biased in how they address the issue of Iraq in the classroom.
Haynes urged schools to keep alive classroom discussions about Iraq, and present different views on the issue, even if there have been complaints about teaching methods or teacher comments.
"Often it is a misunderstanding of what the teacher is trying to do," he said. "But it's also the case that some teachers have a political agenda they can't keep out of the classroom, and that they must do."
In Maine, Department of Education Commissioner Duke Albanese sent a memo to superintendents and principals, writing that it had been brought to his attention some school personnel had been "less than sensitive to children of military families regarding our continued strained relations with Iraq."
He said discussion should allow for questions and differences of opinion, but "be grounded in civil discourse and mutual respect."
Albanese also encouraged "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."
The issue has also grabbed the attention of Republican Sen. Susan Collins and Gov. John Baldacci.
"Any suggestion that their parents are doing something wrong is extremely unfortunate and could have a harmful effect, particularly on young children," Collins said.
Baldacci said he's "disappointed" by the actions of some educators in public school systems.
According to a Defense Department list of reserve and national guard units activated nationwide, 356 troops from four units based in the state have gone on active duty.
These include 174 members of the 1136th Transportation Company, 149 personnel from the 112 Medical Company, 32 state headquarters staff and one member of E Company 120th Aviation. All the units are based in Bangor.
The treatment of the looming war in school hallways and classrooms has also involved charges of unfairness from the other side.
The American Civil Liberties Union has criticized a Dearborn, Mich. high school for telling a junior to either remove a T-shirt depicting President Bush as an "international terrorist," or go home.