Anoka-Hennepin School District being watched from afar

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 5, 2012 - 11:16 PM

The district says e-mails on the policy, the target of a lawsuit, have come from around the world. Changes will be discussed Monday; a vote could come Jan. 23.

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Dennis Carlson

Since taking up a proposal to scrap its controversial Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, the Anoka-Hennepin School District has received 47 e-mails -- most of them from other states and countries.

The e-mails have come from Connecticut and California, Seattle and Washington, D.C., even Colombia and Canada, district spokeswoman Mary Olson said on Thursday. Rolling Stone magazine called again this week to interview Superintendent Dennis Carlson for an upcoming story. In October, CNN's Anderson Cooper interviewed four Anoka-Hennepin students about being bullied.

"It's a local community issue that's playing out on a national level," Carlson said.

The curriculum policy, often called the "neutrality policy," requires staff members to remain neutral on issues involving sexual orientation. Critics say the policy does not protect students from bullying about their sexual orientation, real or perceived, and a lawsuit seeks its repeal.

At its Dec. 12 meeting, the school board heard broad criticism about a proposed replacement, the Controversial Topics Curriculum Policy, which says discussion of controversial topics in class is helpful but dictates that staff members not take sides. There is no mention of sexual orientation or any other specific issue.

The proposal could be voted on at the board's Jan. 23 meeting, but no vote will take place Monday, the district decided this week.

Much of the latest stir centers on the word "controversial." Several community members have asked what is considered "controversial," Olson said. Others have asked whether being gay is considered controversial, she said.

"A few said the proposed policy is unclear or vague," Olson said. "An equal number said we should keep our current sexual-orientation policy."

But the opinions aren't only from within the district.

National magnifying glass

While 47 e-mails hardly compare with the thousands the district has received in the past two years, "47 is still a huge number," said Scott Wenzel, who has been on the school board nearly 16 years. And it's far more than the "virtually no comment" the school district received in 2009 when it enacted its current Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, Olson said.

Said Wenzel: "I've seen more e-mails wanting to get rid of the current policy from people outside the district, and I mean far outside the school district."

"From within the school district, I think we get a pretty even split, but around the country [Anoka-Hennepin] has become a huge social issue," he said.

The national magnifying glass is likely to inch closer to Anoka-Hennepin, as it did with the CNN interviews in the fall and the magazine article for which Rolling Stone has spent weeks conducting interviews, including talks with Carlson and Wenzel, both said.

"As superintendent, my only concern is keeping our 38,000 kids safe," Carlson said. "To assume we are uncaring or unresponsive to bullying and harassment is ludicrous.

"Despite our views, we've got to find some common grounds for all our students to be safe. It's been hurtful on both sides."

Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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