[lg policy] Minnesota: Anoka-Hennepin: From 'neutrality' to proposed language underscoring respect for all

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at GMAIL.COM
Fri Jan 27 14:58:06 UTC 2012

Anoka-Hennepin: From 'neutrality' to proposed language underscoring
respect for all

By Beth Hawkins | Published Thu, Jan 26 2012 9:20 am

Wouldn't it be ironic if the groups demanding that the Anoka-Hennepin
School District maintain its policy of "curricular neutrality" on
issues related to sexual orientation ended up illustrating most
vividly exactly why neutrality, in this context, is not neutral at

A quick recap: In December, the district announced it was considering
scrapping the neutrality policy, which has been at the center of
increasing controversy in the wake of a rash of suicides by bullied
students. In the policy's place, administrators proposed a rule that
would require staff to remain neutral on controversial subjects.

No one liked that proposal. Advocates for LGBT kids and families
complained their identities were being categorized as controversial,
and teachers complained that it was no clearer than the neutrality

Earlier this month, one of the groups of religious conservatives
supporting neutrality delivered a resolution to the board demanding
that it match virtually every step taken in the last year toward
creating an environment that's safe for LGBT students with a

Resolution demands
Among other moves, the Parents Action League demanded the district
train staff on "overcoming sexual disorders," provide "professional
development opportunities in which philosophical, pedagogical, and
political assumptions of GLBT advocacy are critically examined,"
"provide the history of gay-related immune deficiency (GRID), AIDS,
and the medical consequences of homosexual acts" and "provide
pro-family, ex-homosexual and ex-transgender videos to secondary media

Earlier this week, the district released a proposed Respectful
Learning Environment policy [PDF] that commits the district to
"providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to providing
an education that respects all students and families."

It spells out exactly who "all" is. "In the course of discussions of
such issues, district staff shall affirm the dignity and self-worth of
all students, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion,
national origin, sex/gender, marital status, disability, status with
regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, age, family care
leave status or veteran status."

Guidance to staff
And there is guidance on how staff can lead the kinds of discussions
that have previously had them running for the teachers' lounge.

"Political, religious, social, or economic issues may become
contentious in a learning environment in which conflicting views are
held by a broad segment of people in our schools, our community, and
the nation," the proposed policy says.

"It is not the District's role to take positions on these issues.
Teachers and educational support staff shall not attempt in the course
of their professional duties to persuade students to adopt or reject
any particular viewpoint with respect to these issues."

Four of the six board members are on record supporting the proposal.
There is speculation that the board changed its Feb. 13 work session,
where the prospect is scheduled to come up, to a meeting to put an end
to the debate. Board members cannot vote on policy during regularly
scheduled work sessions, only regular meetings.

A professor of counselor education at Minnesota State Mankato, Walter
Roberts, called the proposal a clear step forward.

'A strong signal'
"It sends a strong signal that the district recognizes the plurality
of the many different families that the district serves within the
community," he said yesterday. "It's very important that kids receive
the message that adults in the district are there to provide a safe
space and a place where they can be who they are."

Teachers union members are having conversations and will come up with
a position in coming weeks. Julie Blaha, the president of
Anoka-Hennepin Education Minnesota, said she remains convinced the
neutrality policy should be scrapped and does not need to be replaced
by anything.

"But if a new policy if what it takes for the district to get on with
its work, we can live with this," she said, explaining that it
replicates guidance already contained in other policies.

The same ideas, she added, also "show up in very basic training about
how we conduct ourselves in the classroom."

The Parents Action League declined MinnPost's request for comment
yesterday, but its leaders have expressed misgivings about the
proposed policy to other news media, calling it "vague" and noting
that it would not keep "the teaching and celebration of homosexuality
and other unhealthy behaviors" out of schools.


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