ADVERTISEMENT

Anoka-Hennepin to rework 'controversial topics' policy

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA
  • Star Tribune
  • January 18, 2012 - 9:05 PM

Facing almost unanimous community opposition, the Anoka-Hennepin school board is revising its proposed Controversial Topics Curriculum Policy, which was drafted to replace the district's beleaguered Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy.

A reworked version, to be called a "Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy," won't be available for public review until just before the school board meets Monday night; officials will be working on the new draft through the weekend. The board will not vote on it on Monday but will offer opportunity for public comment, Chairman Tom Heidemann said. The date of a possible vote will depend on the strength and tone of the public reaction.

As initially written, the proposed policy would forbid teachers from advocating their personal beliefs or opinions on controversial issues. The Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy that it would replace says that staff members must remain neutral when issues of sexual orientation come up during the course of their professional duties.

The Controversial Topics policy was introduced last month and drew criticism at two school board meetings, both from those who say the current policy contributes to a hostile environment for gay and lesbian students, and those who want to keep the three-year-old policy.

Heidemann said almost every part of the policy is open to overhaul "since there was so much comment from community members and so many areas of confusion."

"It's a pretty significant update, to try to improve the language, we hope."

One criticism was the lack of a definition of "controversial issues." The board is likely to add guidance in that area, Heidemann said. He said he couldn't share other particulars because the change is ongoing.

The Sexual Orientation policy already is at the center of a lawsuit, filed last summer on behalf of six current and former Anoka-Hennepin students who say the district did not adequately respond to allegations of persistent bullying based on sexual orientation. The suit alleges that the standard serves as a kind of "gag policy." Mediation in the lawsuit is ongoing.

Opposition to the proposed Controversial Topics policy has broken into two camps: those who worry that it would marginalize gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students and teachers, whose lives suddenly might be labeled "controversial," and those who believe that losing the neutrality policy would open the door to gay activists hoping to influence what goes on in the classroom.

Julie Blaha, president of the local teachers union, said she welcomed the board's decision to revisit the new proposal. At last week's board meeting, union members told the board that their preference would be to have no policy at all and trust in the professionalism of teachers and existing district policy. The union also presented a list of proposed changes.

"I could see where if a rework matches good classroom practice, we can support that," Blaha said. "If we can come to a reasonable solution here we can get to the more important long-term work of looking in more detail at what we need to do about making sure our school climate is where it needs to be."

A parents group that opposed scrapping the neutrality policy presented a set of demands, including that the district provide resources for "students of faith, moral conviction, ex-homosexuals and ex-transgenders."

The next school board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. Monday at district headquarters, 11299 Hanson Blvd. NW., Coon Rapids.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

© 2014 Star Tribune