Minn. School District’s Controversial LGBT Policies Debated
Teachers from Minnesota’s largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin, are opposing the current LGBT policy as well as a proposed policy that would replace it. Instead of either policy, teachers say they want to be trusted on handling discussions about sexual orientation and other hot-button issues in the classroom, the Pioneer Press reported in a Jan. 10 article.
The Anoka-Hennepin School District covers 13 communities northwest of Minneapolis and Saint Paul. There are about 2,800 teachers and 38,500 students in the district, the state’s largest.
Under the current controversial policy, teachers are forced to remain neutral on LGBT issues. Individuals who oppose the policy say it has made it difficult for LGBT youth to feel comfortable in schools and some even say that the policy is to blame for a recent string of student suicides.
Nine students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District have committed suicide in the last two years and several other students have attempted suicide, EDGE reported in a July 2011 article. In addition, former GOP presidential candidate and anti-gay U.S. Congresswoman Michele Bachmann is the district’s representative. Some believe that Bachmann’s anti-gay views and attacks on LGBT youth organizations as well as the district’s current policy are responsible for the tragic deaths.
The school district also faces two lawsuits over the "neutrality policy," because the policy prevents teachers from protecting students who are being harassed based on sexual orientation. EDGE noted in an Aug. 2011, article.
"Despite the good intentions of it, it turned out to be more confusing and limiting than helpful," Julie Blaha, president of Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota said of the current policy.
The new policy called the "Controversial Topics Curriculum Policy" would prohibit teachers from stating their opinions and views on hot-button issues, including sexual orientation.
"We wanted to create a policy that reduced confusion, that moved away from something that talked about the individual," said board chairman Tom Heidemann. "But the immediate jump in conclusion is that (the new policy) stays focused on the individual - the wording isn’t right yet. I think it could take more time."
Superintendent Dennis Carlson said that the policy would come with new guidelines to help teachers fully understand it. He added that there would be no "master list" of controversial subjects and in addition, parents have the opportunity to remove their child from discussions on controversial topics.
"My belief as a superintendent is that it is never a good idea to have one policy for one protected class. It can create the perception that it’s a discriminatory policy," he said.
Additionally, local news site SC Times reported that students from Anoka High School submitted a petition to the teacher’s board that was signed by more than 350 students who wanted to do away with the current and the proposed policy so teachers and students can discuss LGBT issues.
Some local clergy also support eliminating both policies.
"There is no neutral or middle-of-the-road position here," said Rev. Margo Richardson, a Christian Church-Disciples of Christ pastor, who is openly gay. "You either believe it is OK for some students to die so others won’t be made uncomfortable, or you don’t. Gay students deserve the same respect for who they are that every other student in this district gets. Craft a policy that protects students’ lives, not a policy that protects prejudice."