COON RAPIDS, Minn. (AP) — The school board in Minnesota’s largest school district tried once again Monday to craft a replacement for its policy that requires teachers to stay neutral when issues of sexual orientation come up in class.
The Anoka-Hennepin district’s policy has been criticized by those who say it hampers teachers from effectively preventing bullying of students who are gay or perceived as gay, and the district is the target of two lawsuits challenging it. Defenders of the neutrality policy say it respects the views of families and students who believe homosexual conduct is immoral.
A draft “Respectful Learning Environment” policy presented to the Anoka-Hennepin school board Monday night says it’s not the district’s role to take positions on contentious political, religious, social or economic issues. It also says teachers should not try to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoints on such issues.
The policy says district staff should affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students, regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, gender or sexual orientation when discussing such issues.
The board does not plan to take a vote Monday night.
A proposed revision that would have dropped references to human sexuality but require teachers to refrain from stating their views on “controversial topics” satisfied neither side when the board met two weeks ago.
Julie Blaha, president of the Anoka-Hennepin district’s local of the Education Minnesota union, said before Monday night’s meeting that while she had not seen the proposal, she was encouraged that the plan still seemed to be to drop the existing neutrality policy.
“If it reflects the concerns people have had, it has potential,” Blaha said. “I’m looking forward to seeing what they’ve come up with.”
The existing policy states that the topic of sexual orientation isn’t part of the curriculum and is best addressed outside the schools. If the issue comes up during student-led discussions, teachers are to remain neutral. The policy came under fire after six students in the district committed suicide in less than two years. The district in the northern Twin Cities suburbs has about 38,500 students and 2,800 teachers.
Settlement talks continue quietly in two lawsuits filed by students, former students and parents against the neutrality policy. Both sides have agreed to keep those discussions confidential. Board members have said the proposed changes are not a response to the lawsuit.
(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)