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Feb. 7: Anoka-Hennepin school district sexual policy advances

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA
  • Star Tribune
  • February 6, 2012 - 11:26 PM

The Anoka-Hennepin teachers' union has given a qualified blessing to the district's proposed replacement for its controversial Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy.

On Monday afternoon, members of the union's governing body, representing all of the district's 65 sites, voted to endorse the Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy. The policy is set to go to a school board vote Feb. 13.

"People said this seems to reflect what we know works for our students," said union president Julie Blaha. "We do appreciate that the board took our suggestions seriously and we see a lot of them in here."

The draft is the second to go before the board in recent months. The Controversial Topics Curriculum Policy, introduced in December, was scrapped last month amid widespread opposition.

The newest draft codifies an expectation that educators do not attempt to persuade students to adopt or reject a certain stance on political, religious, social or economic issues. It would replace one that requires staff to remain neutral on issues of sexual orientation. Teachers have said the current rule, commonly called the neutrality policy, left many unclear how they should interact with gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender students. It also is at the center of a lawsuit filed against the district last summer on behalf of six current and former students who said the district did not adequately respond to their reports of persistent bullying based on their actual or perceived sexual orientation.

Blaha noted that union representatives at Monday's meeting agreed to suggest several changes in the wording of the policy. They suggested, for example, that administrators should be added to the list of those subject to the rule. Blaha said the group might still endorse the policy if the school board does not adopt the changes, though it would want to know the reasoning. There was a significant number of representatives who maintain no policy is needed, though there is support for scrapping the neutrality policy.

School board President Tom Heidemann called the vote "a step in the right direction. ... Always, what we've been trying to do is to address the confusion that people have stated exists with the current policy. ... It is a good step forward to have everyone together as we move forward."

Also Monday, the district reacted to a critical article published Friday in Rolling Stone magazine. The article, called "One Town's War on Gay Teens," detailed the experiences of Brittany Geldert, a plaintiff in the lawsuit against the district, and Justin Aaberg, an Anoka High School freshman who committed suicide in 2010. His family learned after his death that he had been relentlessly bullied because he was gay. The district called the article "a grossly distorted portrayal of the Anoka-Hennepin School District, its schools and its communities."

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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