[lg policy] Minnesota: Anoka-Hennepin tries again on sexual orientation policy

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Wed Jan 25 16:10:13 UTC 2012

Anoka-Hennepin tries again on sexual orientation policy
by Tom Weber, Minnesota Public Radio
January 24, 2012

Coon Rapids, Minn. — A newly-revised policy on how teachers should
handle contentious issues including sexual orientation when they come
up in class appears to be gaining support in the state's largest
school district.  Anoka-Hennepin leaders presented the proposed
revisions to the district's school board Monday night, and they heard
something from the public that they hadn't heard in two previous
meetings: words of support.

The language being proposed would replace the district's 'sexual
orientation curriculum policy,' which requires teachers to remain
neutral when sexual orientation discussions come up. Two pending
lawsuits seek the policy's removal, saying its vagueness hampers
efforts to prevent bullying of gay students. District leaders say the
lawsuits are not related to their move now to consider dumping that

The first proposed policy change would have instructed teachers to
withhold their personal views during class discussions on
controversial topics. That approach drew nearly universal opposition,
often based on the complaint was that it wasn't any clearer than the
existing sexual orientation policy.

On Monday night, a second replacement was introduced, the Respectful
Learning Environment Curriculum. It states that teachers should not
try to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoints,
and also says district staff should affirm the dignity and self-worth
of all students when discussing contentious issues.

District general counsel Paul Cady said this new policy, like the one
it might replace, should only be used in curriculum matters.

"The proposed policy is separate from the bullying and harassment
policy, and we expect our staff to enforce our harassment and bullying
policy without regard to any curriculum policy. All students should
feel welcome and safe in our schools," he said.

Because the new language was only made public during the meeting, most
of the 20 or so speakers didn't directly address the change. Instead,
they responded to comments made during previous meetings.

Robin Mavis with a group called the Gay Equity Team was among those
favoring the newest language before the board.

Still, most of those who spoke in favor of the new wording added the
caveat that they didn't think any policy was necessary, but it was
better than the controversial topics policy that's been dropped.

On the other side, several parents, including Rebecca Vahdat, of Anoka
-- who believe homosexual conduct is immoral -- told the board to keep
the existing sexual orientation policy.

"We send our kids to school to help them learn to read, write, do
math, science, not to have lessons on homosexuality woven into the
classroom curricula," she said.

In the end, school board chair Tom Heidemann said he's still not sure
how he'll vote, but he said he believed that the latest iteration of
the policy "is a better policy than the controversial topics policy."

Fellow board member Scott Wenzel also voiced support for the new
proposal, even though he still believes no policy is necessary. He
says teachers are professional and already live by what this policy is

"But I think we have people within our community who need to have a
policy, so that they have something they can grab onto and understand
what's occurring in our classrooms," he said. "And also, for either
side to see that we are affirming all of our students and we are
supporting all of our students. And this policy says that."

The president of the Anoka-Hennepin teachers' union, Julie Blaha,
reiterated that her group also doesn't believe a new policy is needed.
But she says the new wording appears to have taken previous union
recommendations into consideration.

She says members will meet, vote, and present the union's position on
the newest proposal at the next school board meeting on Feb. 13 -- the
date when board members also expect to vote on the proposal.


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