The state’s largest school district continues to grapple with how best to address sexual orientation in school settings, two years after community stakeholders first began to argue over Anoka-Hennepin’s so-called ‘sexual orientation curriculum policy.’ At least two lawsuits have been filed to challenge its wording.
District policy had required teachers to “remain neutral” on matters pertaining to sexual orientation. Anti-bullying advocates criticized the policy for having the potential to silence teachers and other bystanders in situations where LGBTQ students (or students perceived as such) might be verbally harassed. Conservative groups such as the local Parents Action League insisted that the policy stay in effect.
At a late January school board meeting, a “Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum” was placed on the agenda. This proposed document would guide teachers not to remain silent on sexual orientation or other contentious issues, but rather to “not persuade” students one way or another during instructional lessons that involve controversial topics. This proposal gained support from one set of LGBTQ advocates known as the Gay Equity Team. Other allies of LGBTQ youth maintain that no policy is necessary, especially for teachers who teach health or civics lessons in which sexual orientation is likely to be discussed. The district teachers union, for one, prefers no policy to any of the past or current approaches that seek to guide instructors.
Conservatives continue to back the older policy. One parent attending the board meeting, Rebecca Vahdat, urged teachers to maintain silence on sexual orientation: “We send our kids to school to help them learn to read, write, do math, science, not to have lessons on homosexuality woven into the classroom curricula.”1 Laurie Thompson of the Parents Action League concurred: “Our primary concern is keeping the teaching and celebration of homosexuality and other unhealthy behaviors out of the K-12 curriculum.”2 As of February the school board continues to gather input as to whether the Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum will become official policy.
Located close to Minneapolis/St. Paul, the Anoka-Hennepin School District covers two counties and 13 municipalities, enrolling over 40,000 students from Andover, Anoka, Blaine, Brooklyn Park, Coon Rapids, Oak Grove and several other communities.
For more information, please read SIECUS' Policy Update Minnesota School District Rescinds “Neutrality Policy” Regarding LGBT Issues
1 Tom Weber, “Anoka-Hennepin Tries Again on Sexual Orientation Policy,” Minnesota Public Radio News, 24 January 2012, accessed 2 February 2012, <http://minnesota.publicradio.org/display/web/2012/01/24/anoka-hennepin-sexual-orientation/>.
2 Sarah Horner, “Anoka-Hennepin Schools' New Sexual-Orientation Discussion Policy Gains Support,” TwinCities.com, 28 January 2012, accessed 2 February 2012, <http://www.twincities.com/localnews/ci_19838106>.