Anoka-Hennepin School District GLBT policy criticized

  • Article by: KELLY SMITH , Star Tribune
  • Updated: May 24, 2011 - 11:23 PM

Two national groups urged the Anoka-Hennepin School District to repeal its neutrality policy. One said it "ties the hands" of teachers.

Two national groups have urged the Anoka-Hennepin School District to repeal a policy that requires teachers remain neutral about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues (GLBT).

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, which sued the district earlier this year in a separate case, sent a letter Tuesday to the district after being contacted by students and alumni who said they were bullied in school because they were GLBT or perceived as GLBT.

A district policy allows sexual orientation to be discussed, but requires teachers to remain neutral. Anoka-Hennepin, the state's largest district, is one of the only local districts known to have such a policy.

The district should repeal the policy, the groups wrote to Superintendent Dennis Carlson, because it singles out GLBT students and prevents teachers from supporting them.

"The policy ties the hands of these teachers," said Sam Wolfe, attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit civil rights group. "Some of these kids are being relentlessly harassed."

District spokeswoman Mary Olson said people have differing opinions whether "homosexuality is appropriate." She added, "I don't think by eliminating the neutrality policy we're going to eliminate bullying. The board doesn't see the connection between the two."

The Alabama law center, which has been contacted by district students, has produced a video about gay bullying.

In January the Southern Poverty Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights and Minneapolis law firm Faegre & Benson filed a federal lawsuit against the district to allow two lesbian students to walk together at a homecoming event; a mediated settlement was later reached.

Olson said school district leaders are open to collaborating with the two groups, "but we do believe our policy is legal."

In the 1990s, district leaders took some community members' suggestions that discussions about issues such as homosexuality or AIDs weren't appropriate in schools, she said. But in 2009, the district took "a big step forward," revising the policy to be more neutral, she said.

In the coming weeks, Wolfe said, he'll pursue a lawsuit if district leaders don't take steps to repeal the policy.

"Many other school districts right next door have really got a handle on this issue," he said. "And Anoka-Hennepin is hopefully on the verge to figuring it out."

Kelly Smith • 612-673-4141

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