Don't assume that neutrality in the curriculum means a soft anti-harassment policy.
The Star Tribune Editorial Board recently vilified the Anoka-Hennepin school district by calling our school board "gutless," describing me as someone who "fails to see" clearly on issues involving gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students, and accusing our district of "hiding behind" an "ambiguous" sexual orientation curriculum policy.
The editorial writer was informed that this policy relates to curriculum -- what is taught in classrooms -- and that it has no connection to our anti-bullying and harassment policies, which specifically protect gay students.
In spite of all our efforts to be truthful and accurate, the wrong information was repeated in the media yet again.
So far, the role of those in media has been to pick a side and ignore all who might present information that doesn't conveniently fit the one-sided story or editorial they are creating.
The Star Tribune's editorial added fuel to the fire that brings out the worst in people, increasing the hate mail I now receive on a regular basis, which sometimes describes how I should die, even in obscene detail.
The six elected representatives on the Anoka-Hennepin school board are hardly gutless. In the two-plus years I have been superintendent, the board has made tough decisions by closing eight schools and changing boundaries for more than 3,000 students.
It also eliminated an outdated board directive that described homosexuality as an invalid lifestyle.
Board members have stood firm on the sexual orientation curriculum policy despite hate mail directed at them from those who are unable (or refuse) to separate it from our antibullying policy.
The board believes this curriculum policy is in the best interest of the district. Another fact repeatedly overlooked by the media is that the policy allows discussion of sexual orientation in class provided that it is age-appropriate, fact-based and connected to curriculum.
Throughout this very contentious discussion, we have stressed that our anti-bullying and harassment policies do not have neutrality clauses, as one might believe after reading the editorial.
We are not neutral on safety. We are not neutral on bullies. We are not neutral on our gay students.
The editorial held up the Edina school district as a role model because it has Gay-Straight Alliance student groups. We have more active GSAs than Edina.
The Minnesota Student Survey indicates that more than 90 percent of our students feel safe in school. But bullying and harassment have not been eliminated, so we can use this data to improve our efforts.
What the Star Tribune could have done in this very public debate is urge communities to find common ground on how to keep all of our youths safe in an increasingly divisive environment in which a number of adult leaders model poor behavior toward gay people.
On other difficult topics, this oppositional approach to everything not considered "normal" or "acceptable" brought our moderate state to an unprecedented shutdown and our nation to the brink of an economic catastrophe.
I fully acknowledge that we as a public educational institution need assistance -- particularly when the prevailing attitude among state and national adult leaders is "no compromise -- winner take all."
How do we keep our youths safe when some adults preach name-calling, vilification and hatred of those who hold a different point of view?
On a practical level for us, how do we change a century of traditional boy/girl events into respectful, honoring celebrations for all, including gay students?
What are the best skills for a young person to deal with bullying or harassment in places where there are no adults nearby?
These solutions are needed regardless of our policies on curriculum.
For the record: The Anoka-Hennepin school district is not homophobic nor neutral about gay students. We are advocates for all students -- gay, straight, Muslim, African-American, Christian, and everyone else who walks through our public-school doors.
We do not see gay students as living an abnormal lifestyle or as sinners. We see them as our students, accept them as they are and are proud to have each of them in our student body.
My role as superintendent is to help build local community consensus on how to keep all our youths safe. The Star Tribune and its bully pulpit should help Anoka-Hennepin do just that!
Dennis Carlson is superintendent of the Anoka-Hennepin school district.
The Opinion section is produced by the Editorial Department to foster discussion about key issues. The Editorial Board represents the institutional voice of the Star Tribune and operates independently of the newsroom.