ANOKA, Minn. (WCCO) — The largest school district in Minnesota is thinking about changing the way the district deals with issues surrounding bullying. The Anoka-Hennepin School board will consider rewriting its policies on religion and sexual orientation.
The district faces two lawsuits over its current policy that suggests teachers take a neutral stance on topics related to gay, lesbian or transgender issues.
The district’s current policy on “sexual-orientation” has come under fire. Seven students have committed suicide, and at least one was gay. Brett Johnson, a spokesperson for the school district, said it reviewed the information it had about the students who committed suicide and did not find any evidence that they were bullied or harassed prior to their deaths.
Under the current policy, teachers are directed to remain “neutral on matters of sexual orientation” and not discuss their beliefs or opinions. The district’s policy goes on to say “such matters are best addressed outside school.”
“The change is being looked at primarily because teachers felt that the old policy was confusing,” said Mary Olson, Anoka-Hennepin District Communications Director.
The school-board will consider broadening the policy on sexual orientation. The religion policy would change, too.
At the hearing Monday night, the board provided speakers with a couple minutes of public testimony. Seventeen speakers expressed a wide range of opinions, including some asking to keep the current policy and some asking to eliminate the current policy, but not adopt the proposed policy.
Addition comments can also be sent to the board.
Under the proposed policy, both topics would fall under a new “controversial topics curriculum” meant to allow students to form their own opinions on the issues. Teachers “shall not advocate their own beliefs or opinions” on the topics.
“It’s so frustrating and confusing, I think it could be very damaging,” said Tammy Aaberg, who’s son, Justin, committed suicide after being bullied for being gay.
She doesn’t believe the proposed change would be “better.”
“He had been bullied and harassed at school due to his sexual orientation,” Aaberg said a few weeks ago during a press conference with Gov. Mark Dayton.
She supported Dayton’s idea to form an “anti-bullying” task force. But she can’t support the idea of labeling “gay-lesbian-bi-transgender” students as “controversial.”
“I think the board needs to add in that they recognize, validate and support all students for who they are as a person,” Aaberg said.
Aaberg also voiced her opinion before the school board. She said she knows it’s too late to save her son, but it’s not too late to save other children from being bullied.
The board will likely vote on the proposal next month.