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GLBT group faults Anoka-Hennepin website

  • Article by: NORMAN DRAPER
  • Star Tribune
  • August 8, 2011 - 10:03 PM

A student advocate group has criticized an Anoka-Hennepin school district Web page, recently created to explain its responses to GLBT (gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender) issues, for making what the group calls misleading statements.

The link to the page, featured prominently on the district's website, went live July 27. It lists policies on harassment, bullying and its sexual orientation curriculum. It also has staff voice mails regarding GLBT issues left by superintendent Dennis Carlson, information on staff-training efforts and background on district GLBT issues.

But the Anoka-Hennepin Gay Equity Team, which has challenged the district for not doing enough to protect GLBT students from harassment, charged in a press release last week that the site is riddled with misleading and even false information.

"We believe the efforts of the school district [on GLBT students' behalf] have been overstated, misstated and re-stated to make it appear that they have done more than they actually have to address GLBT harassment and bullying and the climate within the school district for these students," said Robin Mavis, a district parent and group spokeswoman.

A district spokesman acknowledged a mistake with a transcript of one of the voice mails, but said that it has since been removed. He said district staff have received extensive training on GLBT issues.

The district has drawn attention over GLBT concerns for several years, especially in the last 12 months, much of it dealing with the district's "neutrality" policy, which lets teachers discuss sexual orientation issues, but requires them to remain neutral on those issues.

Also, there were seven suicides of district students either enrolled or recently graduated in 2009 and 2010. GLBT advocates say several of the deaths were linked to bullying involving real or perceived GLBT orientation. District officials say there were other causes.

The district has been sued by two national civil rights groups. It also faces an investigation by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education.

The Gay Equity Team contends the district ignored evidence that tied several suicides to bullying. It charged that staff training relating to GLBT issues has been minimal. Another charge is that, when district officials originally posted transcripts of the Carlson voice mails, they tampered with the text, adding material "to portray the district as having a more inclusive stance [toward GLBT students]."

Those transcripts have been removed from the site, which now features only the voice mails. District spokesman Brett Johnson said Carlson edited the script as he spoke, but the original script was posted on the website.

"It's being construed as a deception, but it's not," Johnson said. "It's really the case of a mistake."

Regarding training, Johnson said, "we've had extensive training of counselors, school psychologists, social workers and student learning advocates."

He said before the beginning of the 2010-2011 school year, all district secondary school teachers heard presentations about identifying GLBT harassment and preventing it, and responding to GLBT student needs.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547

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