The Anoka Hennepin School District, which lashed out last week over a Rolling Stone article that profiled the spate of suicides in the school district and the school's policy which forces teachers to remain neutral on the subject of homosexuality, has voted to replace its old policy with one intended to provide a "respectful" environment for all students. Anoka-Hennepin is the subject of a federal investigation and a lawsuit from The Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Faegre Baker Daniels LLP on behalf of five former students. There have been seven student suicides in the school district in less than two years.
The new policy commits the north suburban Twin Cities district to providing “a safe and respectful learning environment for all students.” It says that when contentious political, religious, social matters or economic issues come up — it does not specifically cite sexuality issues — teachers shouldn’t try to persuade students to adopt particular viewpoint. It calls for teachers to foster respectful exchanges of views. It also says in such discussions, staff should affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students, regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.
Blaha told the board the new policy could just become buried among all the district’s other policies, or it could become “the first few paragraphs of a new chapter … in which everybody feels safe and welcome at school. A chapter where it is clear that every student, staff member and family is valued for who they are. And a chapter full of rigorous conversations between professionals about how to improve our school climate.”
Anti-gay parents spoke out against the new policy: “If you pass a policy with weak language of appeasement, the gay agenda will be given an even greater foothold in our school district. Said Barb Anderson: "We are at a crossroads. You either cave in the demands of the homosexual activists, an action that will make our schools unsafe for all kids, or you stand firm and protect the children.”
The Southern Poverty Law Center issued a statement regarding the changes:
“Today is the first day in nearly 18 years that Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District no longer has a harmful policy that singles out lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students. Although we would have preferred for the District to have repealed this stigmatizing policy without replacing it, we are pleased that the new policy expressly requires district staff to affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students, including LGBT students. The repeal of this policy is an important first step, but the District must do much more to create a safe, welcoming, and respectful learning environment for all students, including LGBT and gender non-conforming students, and those perceived as such. We are unable to comment further due to ongoing mediation in the pending litigation."