Changes in Anoka-Hennepin neutrality policy up for vote

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 12, 2012 - 9:22 PM

The Anoka-Hennepin district will decide Monday on replacing its widely criticized Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy.

Anoka-Hennepin school board members continue to receive public comment as they prepare to vote Monday on a proposed replacement for the district's contested Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy.

The current policy, which requires staff to remain neutral on issues of sexual orientation, has been criticized as confusing for teachers, and has been blamed by detractors for creating a hostile school environment for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. It is at the center of a lawsuit filed on behalf of six students who claimed the district did not adequately respond to complaints of persistent bullying based on sexual orientation.

It also has supporters, who say that eliminating it could open the door to activists pushing a pro-gay agenda.

The proposed replacement, the Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy, was introduced last month. The teachers' union gave a qualified endorsement to the proposal last week, with suggested changes. School board Chairman Tom Heidemann met with union members Thursday; he said their concerns will be addressed in staff training.

The board also received feedback on Thursday from the Gay Equity Team, which has advocated for GLBT students. The group maintains that no policy is needed but says the proposed rule, which directs staff not to try to persuade students to adopt or reject viewpoints on a variety of contentious issues, is an improvement.

The group suggested several changes. At minimum, said founding member Katrina Plotz, the group would like to see the district strike language that says "It is not the District's role to take positions" on political, religious, social or economic issues.

The group says that wording could contradict the district's pledge to "affirm the dignity and self worth of all students," regardless of race, color, sexual orientation, and a variety of other factors. "By essentially saying teachers can't take a position, they're still viewing this as a political issue that they want staff to be neutral on," said Plotz.

Heidemann said Friday he was reviewing their suggestions.

Members of the Parents Action League, which has opposed change to the neutrality policy, could not be reached for comment. In a Jan. 24 e-mail interview, member Barb Anderson said her group wants a policy that keeps "the teaching and celebration of homosexuality and other unhealthy behaviors out of the K-12 curriculum so the schools can focus on core academics."

Five of the six school board members -- John Hoffman, Marci Anderson, Scott Wenzel, Mike Sullivan and Heidemann -- said Thursday and Friday that they cautiously leaned toward supporting the new policy, but were reserving final judgment until Monday. Member Kathy Tingelstad was not available for comment on Friday.

Hoffman said he wants to learn more about plans to implement the policy.

Superintendent Dennis Carlson said administrators have been working on a plan that would first involve training curriculum leaders at the schools, then having on-the-ground information and trainings at individual schools. He said the top brass are already working to anticipate teachers' questions, and to create a system for feedback.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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