[lg policy] Minnesota: Anoka-Hennepin teachers may move to oppose district's proposed controversial topics policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Sat Jan 7 15:39:13 UTC 2012

Anoka-Hennepin teachers may move to oppose district's proposed
controversial topics policy
By Sarah Horner
shorner at pioneerpress.com
Updated: 01/06/2012 11:09:02 PM CST

Teachers in the Anoka-Hennepin school district are mobilizing to shoot
down a proposed policy replacing the district's current language on
sexual orientation with one governing all controversial topics.

Some are saying no policy is needed.

A group of educators met Wednesday and decided the new proposed policy
was unnecessary and redundant, said Julie Blaha, president of Anoka
Hennepin Education Minnesota.

"A lot of teachers are saying they don't think we need this," Blaha
said. "As educators, we already know how to have these kinds of
conversations with our students."

The group will bring that recommendation before the Anoka-Hennepin
teachers' representative assembly for a vote Monday.

If the body accepts it, results will be presented at the school board
meeting scheduled for later that night.

The new policy comes on the heels of scrutiny of the district's sexual
orientation curriculum policy, which tells staff members to stay
neutral on LGBT topics in classrooms. Many teachers said they found it
confusing. Some in the community blame it for contributing to an
atmosphere of anti-gay bullying, claims at the center of two lawsuits
pending against the district.

If adopted, the new policy would replace the one on sexual orientation
as well as a district policy on religion, and instead govern classroom
discussions on all controversial topics. They include everything from
gay issues to immigration reform. It instructs staff not to advocate
personal positions.

A handful of other districts in Minnesota have similar policies.

A group of parents, teachers and students filled a recent school board
meeting on the proposed change, with most saying the new language was
either too confusing or unnecessary.

The group of about 15 teachers who met Wednesday took a closer look at it.

They walked away deciding no classroom policy on controversial topics
was necessary, including one on gay issues, Blaha said. But, if the
board decides to stick with one anyway, the teachers group made
changes to the new language to make it more palpable for educators,
Blaha said.

Among other things, the group worked to more clearly define how the
word "controversial" should be interpreted in the new policy, Blaha

"It needs to be clear that while issues can be controversial, our
students' identities will never be," Blaha said.

Those recommendations will also go before the larger teacher body for
a vote Monday.

Jefferson Fietek, a middle school teacher in the district, said he
wasn't a part of Wednesday's meeting but likes most of what he's heard
came out of it.

"There are already things that prevent us as teachers from going in to
classrooms and demanding our view is the right view," Fietek said, "We
don't need a new policy to tell us that."

Other teachers could not be reached for comment late Friday, but Blaha
said those on the more conservative side of the spectrum felt their
needs were met with Wednesday's meeting.

"Their main concern is that they don't want to have to say something
they don't believe in," Blaha said.

Consensus has always been found in doing what is best for students,
Blaha added, which the group decided could be accomplished without
having any policy at all.

The recommendations were circulated among teachers and school board
members Friday.

Board member Scott Wenzel said he agrees with the teachers, adding he
doesn't think the district should have a policy with its roots tied to
one adopted several years ago that said homosexuality was not a normal
or valid lifestyle.

That policy eventually morphed into the district's sexual orientation
curriculum policy.

"This is a human rights issue, and it's an equity and fairness issue," he said.

Board member John Hoffman said he hadn't reviewed the recommendations
yet but was eager to hear from teachers.

"I am still weighing input on this," Hoffman said, adding his main
objection would be to find out if the new policy helps clear up
confusion with the sexual orientation curriculum policy.

The board may vote on the issue at the end of this month.


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