Four of the six Anoka-Hennepin school board members said Tuesday they're inclined to support the district's latest alternative to its Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy.
The four -- Scott Wenzel, John Hoffman, Marci Anderson and Mike Sullivan -- also said, however, that they want more public feedback to the proposed Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy. The policy was introduced Monday and is expected to come up for a vote Feb. 13.
A fifth board member, Chairman Tom Heidemann, said he believes the new draft achieves the board's objectives and also addresses a broad scope of community concerns. Still, he said, he wants to respect the process, which includes taking in another round of public comment at the Feb. 13 meeting, before deciding.
"I don't want people to think our minds are made up," he said. "Look what community input did to the last policy. I think the process works."
The sixth board member, Kathy Tingelstad, could not be reached for comment Tuesday.
Last month, the district announced plans to scrap the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, which requires staffers to remain neutral on issues involving sexual orientation. Detractors have said the policy contributed to a hostile atmosphere for gay and lesbian students and it is the target of a lawsuit, but the district said the planned change was a result of staff confusion on the policy.
The board's initial proposal was to replace the "neutrality policy" with a broader one on controversial topics, which would have barred teachers from voicing personal opinions on contentious issues. That proposal was roundly criticized on several grounds by both supporters and opponents of the current policy.
At Monday night's board meeting, members and the public got their first look at the new proposal.
A positive perspective is what makes the difference for this draft, Wenzel said on Tuesday.
"It uses positive statements instead of negative words, like 'controversy' and what not to do," he said. "It puts it into affirming words, of this is what we want people to do. It's done in a positive sense, as in this is what we believe we are going to be doing and this is what we want to do in the future. It really states what we have been doing and what our expectations are in a very positive, encompassing way."
While the new proposal also says teachers "shall not attempt ... to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint," it also lays out the importance of age-appropriate material, a balanced scope of information, respectful discourse and affirmation of all students.
Community members who advocate for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students generally were supportive of the new language on Monday.
"It's come a long way," said Robin Mavis, founder of the district's Gay Equity Team, after the meeting. "It's not in conflict with anything teachers have been entrusted with and instructed by their own union how to professionally go about their daily teaching."
She also said she was "extremely happy" that the new policy doesn't single out any one population, as the neutrality policy did.
Those who seek to keep the current policy generally continued to argue that conversations about sexuality, and homosexuality in particular, should be left in the home and church. Barb Anderson, a member of the Parents Action League, expressed misgivings in an e-mail Tuesday that the proposed policy is vague.
"Our primary concern is keeping the teaching and celebration of homosexuality and other unhealthy behaviors out of the K-12 curriculum so the schools can focus on core academics," she said. "We want this new policy to have the same effect as the existing policy. This new one, however, is vague and the language does not directly address that concern."
Marci Anderson said she and other board members have struggled to find their own paths on the matter.
"You just have to really listen for whatever opinions people bring forth and carefully consider what they're telling you," she said, "and remember that I represent my whole community and not just one side or the other."
The academic purpose for the policy is to allow for respectful discussion and disagreement. Heidemann said he hopes the process will move along in a similar spirit. The district really did try to incorporate as many perspectives as possible into the new policy language, he said.
"If you're looking for your point of view only, I think both sides are going to be disappointed," he said.
Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409