Parents' league presents demands to Anoka-Hennepin schools

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: January 10, 2012 - 9:07 AM

The group wants Anoka-Hennepin to assist students of "moral conviction" and to offer information on overcoming "sexual disorders."

A group of parents demanded Monday night that Anoka-Hennepin schools commit more resources to "students of faith, moral conviction, ex-homosexuals and ex-transgenders."

Upping the ante in the district's debate over how to address controversial issues in school, in particular sexual orientation, the Parents Action League also asked the district to provide students information that links homosexuality to sexually transmitted diseases and about how to "overcom[e] sexual disorders."

The demands were made during a public comment period on a proposed policy to replace the district's current Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, which forbids staff members from taking a stand on issues of sexual orientation.

The proposal says teachers and staffers "shall not advocate personal beliefs or opinions regarding controversial topics in the course of their professional duties," and that those topics should be presented in an "atmosphere free of bias and prejudice."

After nearly two hours of comments, school board Chairman Tom Heidemann expressed some doubt that the board would approve the proposed policy, noting that the rule still seems to be confusing.

"We wanted to create a policy that improved people's understanding and reduced confusion," he said in board discussion after the public forum. "I'm not sure we've met that [goal]." He said the Parents Action League's demands surprised him, but reserved further comment until he's had time to examine them.

The league -- formed last year to support the district's current so-called neutrality policy -- called recent district actions, including its proposal to adopt the Controversial Topics Curriculum Policy, as well as work to combat bullying, "a pretext to advance a much broader agenda: the legitimization of homosexuality and related conduct to impressionable schoolchildren."

League representatives Brian Lindquist, of Ramsey, and Mike Skaalerud, of Anoka, read a statement emphasizing the district's legal liability for any "hostile academic environment, for discrimination and for violating the First Amendment rights of parents and students." The spectre of a lawsuit came up at least five times as they read a three-page statement.

After the hearing, league president Laurie Thompson said it was too soon to say whether the group would pursue legal options.

"We'll cross that bridge if we get to it," she said. "We just believe it's a parent's right to direct the upbringing of their children on human sexuality."

During the nearly two-hour hearing, 34 people spoke, most of them against dropping the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy. Many argued that discussions of sexual orientation do not belong at school, that dropping the neutrality policy would open the door to gay activism in school and that tolerance of homosexuality runs counter to their religious beliefs.

Several also spoke against both policies.

Members of a teachers union committee told the board that they support dropping the neutrality policy, but remain opposed to adoption of the Controversial Topics Curriculum Policy. But the group presented the board with changes that it said could make the draft "unobjectionable."

Those changes would largely eliminate policy already stated elsewhere, said Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota President Julie Blaha.

"Redundancy sends a weird message," she said. "It can overemphasize some things, and then people can interpret more than they should."

For example, the union noted that the current policy's section forbidding staffers from advocating personal opinions creates the impression "that the school board does not believe teachers already carefully weigh if and when to share an opinion with students."

Anoka High School seniors Rachel Hawley and Emily Hall presented the board with a petition containing the signatures of 361 district students, staff and parents, who would like to see the neutrality policy scrapped.

Getting rid of the current policy would improve the lives of GLBT students and staff, Hawley told the board.

"If the old one didn't work, why would a new one?" she asked.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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