Anoka-Hennepin school district revises policy over sexual orientation

  • Star Tribune s taff w riters
  • February 11, 2009 - 8:18 PM

Minnesota's largest school district has abandoned a 1995 directive that staff members refrain from discussing homosexuality "as a normal, valid lifestyle" in health education classes.

The revised policy, as adopted by the Anoka-Hennepin school board Monday, changes the wording to say that school district staff "shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation, including but not limited to student-led discussions." It also says that staff members should address sexual orientation in a "respectful manner."

Anoka-Hennepin school board member Scott Wenzel triggered the change last month when he called the language in the district's "sexual orientation curriculum policy" objectionable and pushed to have it rescinded.

"Saying the staff has to be respectful, that's a step forward," said Wenzel, who is not gay. Wenzel said he would like to take matters further in regard to gay and lesbian orientation, saying "we should present it in the same light we present [heterosexual] orientation."

Mary Olson, a district spokeswoman, said residents had the opportunity to comment on the proposed change at the board meetings. Few residents raised objections.

OutFront Minnesota and the Midwest Office of Family Equality Council, two of the state's leading gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) advocacy groups, praised the vote.

Phil Duran, a staff attorney for OutFront, said since the policy was enacted 14 years ago his office has received several inquiries from students and parents who said it led to censorship in journalism assignments and GLBT awareness training for teachers.

"It was a very odd situation," Duran said. "We're grateful the board put some thoughtful effort into moving forward and balancing the district's obligation to serve all students and recognize there was some sensitivity about this issue."

The old board policy "made teachers nervous," said Mary Pedersen, a Champlin Park High School teacher who advises the school's gay-straight alliance. "They didn't want to overstep the boundary of that board directive."

The change will likely have little impact on district schools now, but its health curriculum comes up for review in 2011. That, said Wenzel, would give the board the opportunity to move toward a more positive approach to GLBT issues.

Board members have asked the district to move up the review but didn't cite a timeline.

Norman Draper • 612-673-4547 Patrice Relerford • 612-673-4395

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