COON RAPIDS, Minn. (AP) — The teachers union in Minnesota’s largest school district urged its school board Monday night to drop a proposed policy on handling controversial topics in the classroom, saying educators should be trusted to mediate student discussions about sexual orientation and other issues.

The board proposed the change to replace a current policy that requires teachers to remain neutral when the topic of human sexuality comes up during class. Some people believe the current policy, which is being challenged by two lawsuits, fosters bullying of gay students.

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.

Julie Blaha, president of the Anoka-Hennepin district’s local of the Education Minnesota union, told the board that the union supports dropping the current policy. She called the discussion “a good step” toward improving the climate for discussing contentious issues.

But she said the proposed replacement — which would require teachers to refrain from stating their views on controversial topics — isn’t needed and should at least be changed so that students’ identities aren’t defined as controversial.

“We need to clearly differentiate between what is an issue and what is somebody’s identity. We agree that teachers should not promote a personal agenda in the classroom. Our role’s not to tell students what to think but help them think more deeply,” Blaha said.

About 80 people attended Monday night’s meeting, and more than 30 people testified — none in favor of the proposed change — including several parents and clergy members who argued for maintaining the existing neutrality policy. They said it was the best way to respect the views of conservative and religious students and families who believe homosexuality is immoral.

Mary Jane Milless, of Coon Rapids, said she sent her children to a parochial school through the eighth grade so they would be educated in keeping with their family’s faith. She said she doesn’t think it’s the role of their public high school to teach them things that conflict with those values.

“I don’t want my kids educated on morality at Coon Rapids High School. I want them educated on the basics,” said Milless, who works in an elementary school cafeteria.

Rabbi Chaim Goldberger, of St. Louis Park, said the board is being bullied into backing down because of the threat of legal action.

“How ironic that you might think you can overcome a bullying problem by capitulating to bullies yourselves,” Goldberger said.

But clergy members were not unanimous. The Rev. Margo Richardson, a Christian Church-Disciples of Christ pastor from Coon Rapids, said teachers need the tools to stop the bullying of gay students.

“There is no neutral or middle-of-the-road position here,” said Richardson, who is openly gay and in a committed long-term relationship. “You either believe it is OK for some students to die so others won’t be made uncomfortable, or you don’t. Gay students deserve the same respect for who they are that every other student in this district gets. Craft a policy that protects students’ lives, not a policy that protects prejudice.”

Anoka High School seniors Rachel Hawley and Emily Hall presented the board with petitions that they said were signed by more than 350 students in favor of dropping the existing policy and scrapping the proposed replacement. Hawley said both policies limit the ability of teachers to talk openly with their students about issues facing gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered people.

School board members are scheduled to vote on the proposed change Jan. 23, but Board Chairman Tom Heidemann said that could be delayed to clarify the language. He said he wasn’t sure the wording accomplishes the goal of defusing the issue.

Its current 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.

Two lawsuits filed by students, former students and parents allege that the current neutrality policy effectively silences teachers and prevents them from protecting students who are gay or perceived as gay.

The proposed new policy states that the district “recognizes the importance of providing information about controversial topics in a democracy” but that “teachers and educational support staff shall not advocate personal beliefs or opinions regarding controversial topics in the course of their professional duties.”

It’s not clear how the proposed new policy would affect settlement talks in the lawsuit because both sides have agreed to keep the discussions confidential, although the plaintiffs welcomed the new proposal as a step forward when it came out last month. Board members have said the new policy is not a response to the lawsuit.

(© Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)

Comments (41)
  1. G Dog says:

    Micro-managing school board that leans so far to the right they make Pat Buchanon look like a communist. The board should adopt a symbol of an ostrich with its head in the sand – most appropriate.

  2. Kevin says:

    She said she doesn’t think it’s the role of their public high school to teach them things that conflict with those values.

    Brilliant! Your ranked 37th in the nation! Worry about the basics and let parents deal with morale values!

    1. Tom says:

      @ Kevin

      I wouldn’t leave the parents to deal with morals and values when the parents are just as to blame for this problem as the teachers are.

      1. Kevin says:

        True…..sad but true…..

  3. as simple as one, two, three says:

    And this school board is being micromanaged by the union and legal system. The former policy was nuetral, but that does not allow the left room to preach a pro gay stance, so they are now being micro managed. Rather funny how the left is bullying the school board with the union and lawyers, but that is ok as long as they get their way….

    1. G Dog says:

      This is the first time that the teacher’s union has expressed an opinion on the policy in the 1-2 years that this issue has been fumbled by the school board – so how can the union be the problem?

      Blame a spineless school board who bows to the “pious” conservatives, narrow minded thinking and obfuscation rather than doing what is right for kids

      “Simple” – you’re way off base.

      1. Citizen says:

        @G Dog. I think the policy has only come to light because of the suicides, and that is why everyone, including the teacher union, is being forced to look at the gag policy in the light of day. Nothing like sunshine to blow away the dark clouds of bigotry!

  4. Citizen says:

    Free speech is protected by the Constitution of the United States. Let the professional teachers do the jobs they were licensed to do and allow them to deal with the problem of bullying and sexual orientation in the classroom, halls, cafeteria, etc. I can clearly see where this gag order policy could be used to intimidate and bully the teachers. Who would want to try to teach in an atmosphere where your words could be misconstrued and used against you? Bravo to the students who got up the petitions to stop this nonsense. They show way more intelligence than the adults involved!

    1. Mel says:

      It’s only free speech as long as it isn’t religious, or should I say Christian. You find me a public school board in favor a allowing a teacher to advocate for Christianity, and I’ll show you a pig with wings. Be consistent.

      1. Mark says:

        It’s just so hard to advocate for such a bigoted, arrogant, and hate-filled mythology, Mel. Accept my apologies.

        1. Often Forgotten says:

          @Mark ….”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

          Mythology? Without the belief in a Creator, you are then not endowed with certain unalienable Rights as stated in the Declaration of Independence. What mythology do you subscribe to?

  5. Rockfish says:

    Let the teachers say what they want. There are also conservative teachers. It is a melting pot of opinions. Many people have been inspired by teachers in their lives based on their teachings and philosophies, let this continue. Ask yourself, do we really want some people to be the only influence in a child’s life?

  6. Citizen says:

    I seriously wonder how the adults involved in this policy can function around teenagers. My experience as a teacher AND a parent is that the more you forbid something, the more likely your teenager is to try it, embrace it, get involved in it just to spite you! So the more the school board and parents stir this ridiculous cauldron of bigotry, the more the kids will get interested. Reverse psychology. When authority figures quit emphasizing an issue, teenagers quickly become disinterested because they can no longer actively rebel against it. The fact these adults in charge of the school district do not understand this simple fact of raising a teenager simply astounds me!

    1. Don't Tread on Me says:

      The real world outside of our sanctified public school systems has a way of teaching ignorant and misguided kids how to respond to people they don’t accept. The one’s who hate will find themselves quickly learning to accept or at least keep to themselves when it comes to growing into a respectable adult. Being suspended or expelled from school for hate may be a hard time, but its even harder being fired from your job or worse, sent to jail. Let the world teach them their lessons.

      1. Citizen says:

        @Don’t Tread. You are correct to a point, but I can only point to dialogs from political candidates on the national stage who have not learned the hard lessons of bigotry and hate. In fact, bigotry and hate are becoming a rallying call in some political circles–we know which ones.

    2. Counterpt says:

      From my experience as well the more you tell anyone that they can’t do something, the more they seem to do that very thing. Somewhere I read that God told Adam and Eve not to eat from a certain tree and that’s just what they did. God also told them that if they did, they would surely die. So you have a very good point since it is well backed up through many generations.

      From my experience as well, when people engaged in a debate to establish their belief system or test their belief system, that when they are unwilling to give the other side a valid point, unwilling to wrestle with the conflict that a new argument may have caused to their belief system, that they find it easier shut down rational thought and revert to name calling to those who threaten their belief system.

      1. Often Forgotten says:

        Yes, people don’t like being told what they can and can’t do, and you did allude to the fact that there are consequences for not obeying the laws of God. Likewise there are also laws set up by our government and consequences for not obeying those laws. The messy part in all of this and why it’s not “simple” as Citizen would like us to belief, is that even the consequences of our decisions or actions, maybe not be fully understood, and even perceived consequences aren’t often agreed upon by those on the right, left, or middle.

  7. Revert says:

    Lets just go ahead and let the old rules stay as is… They will do a great job of preparing student for every one they will meet in their life after high school. Students will be mentally crippled by being sheltered by the fact that there are other people out there who don’t think and act just like them. Way to go, perpetuate the hate and cluelessness that starts at home. I grew up in this area, and know how a great deal of these parents bring up their kids. It would make a Pat Robertson blush. I’m so glad I had the opportunity when I was young to be exposed to people of other lifestyles. It encourages critical thinking and stimulates the mind, all of which only helps you in life.

    1. Citizen says:

      @Revert. Yes, thank the good Lord that young people grow up and get educated and informed despite the best efforts of school districts and families to promote bigotry and disinformation. A very sad state of affairs that is all about control and fear. Perhaps Anoka school district would be so much more comfortable if we all wore the red letter “H” for hetero sexual, or the red letter “G” for “gay.” But, then the school board and some parents would have to wear the red letter “B” for bigot. Then everyone would be identified and there would be no more need for speech. Simple enough for simple minds!

    2. Tom says:

      @ Revert

      People like Robertson, Paisley, Hammond, Haggee, etc, etc, are all nutjobs! But those type of people live in a bubble. And anything outside that bubble scared them.

  8. Citizen says:

    As I have posted elsewhere, the fact of this issue is a simple one: the families are afraid that they have not sufficiently indoctrinated their children in right-wing bigotry as far as religion and science and alternative lifestyles, thus, they are enlisting the school districts to help them. So, the rest of us have to endure the push for abstinence sex education, creationism, and gag orders on teachers. Once the kids leave home they find out how the REAL world works. But, in the meantime, perhaps a few will become foot soldiers and flag bearers for right-wing bigotry and keep the hate alive. You can bet that the parents et al. who are pushing this gag order onto teaching staff, openly trash alternative lifestyles and choices at home.

    1. Counterpt says:

      If you believe the gay lifestyle is wrong, people like Citizen tells us we’re trashing the alternative lifestyles. If you believe in creationism, we’re right-wing bigots. I may disagree with your beliefs there Citizen, but I don’t hate or disrespect you…I simply disagree with you. Abstinence is an alternative, and while not the only option, the left doesn’t even want it discussed as an option. Creationism is an alternative, but because of it’s a religious foundation, it can’t even be discussed in schools. While the left want you to believe that our complicated and yet so ordered world had no intelligent creator but just randomly happened and evolved. Now that’s a step of faith. So go ahead and call me hateful and a bigot if it makes you feel superior. Your ranting proves that you are just as intolerant of any opinions differing from your own and intolerant of people with different political views from your own. By definition, you seem to be that by which you call others.

    2. A Job Creator says:

      Simple? Really Citizen? You said and I quote, “The world is not simple.” Amazing how you now can sum up the different views of millions of people on an issue into one simple fact. The only “fact” here is that your post above is nothing but your opinion.

    3. Often Forgotten says:

      @Citizen ….”We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

      Do you know where the above statement comes from? Can you imagine that…we can’t teach creationism, and yet our Declaration of Independence says we have rights endowed by our Creator. The original text also has “Creator” with a capital “C.” What was the significance of that word being capitalized along with Rights, Life, Liberty, and Happiness? If people deny that we have a Creator…then should those who believe that, also not be given the Rights of Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness? So I really feel sorry that you’ve had to endure the push for creationism.

  9. Tom says:

    If the teachers believe they are better mediators in handing these situations the school dist wouldn’t be the situation they are in now. If teachers have their beliefs thats fine but once they walk threw those school doors their beliefs stay outside the building. And if the teacher does not believe they can do that then maybe they should leave the public school system and try to get into a private school setting and not worry about it.

    1. Citizen says:

      @Tom. Teachers mediate classroom and hallroom behavior constantly–all day every day. To gag them so that they have to second guess how to deal with a potentially violent or confrontational situation, is to tie their hands. The school district and board are just pandering to a vocal group of families who are ho mo phobic. Teachers are licensed professionals who are entrusted with our children’s education which covers a lot of topics way more important than sexual orientation.

  10. Tom says:

    But the problem with school is just not a school problem it starts at home. If they student who is doing the haraasing is being told by their parents that is ok to judge / harass / Bully people who they believe are different then them, that is on the parents. But those type of parents who tell their kids that person is not “normal” that parent should be told there is no such thing as “normal”.

    1. Citizen says:

      @Tom. Parents teach what they know and practice—NOT what they don’t know and practice.

  11. See BS says:

    Public Schools are State sponsored religious institutions for liberal and gay activists.

    “Bow to our recycle and rainbow symbols or the world will end from global warming”

    1. See See BS says:

      Me and See BS don’t like sciense and reedin’ and whot-not. Me pree-fer gittin ma nolledge from ma gut. I luk outsyde and go “Its cold”, that way me no there ain’t no such thing as globle warmin’. How kin it bee cold if thur such thing as globle warmin’? I also hates, hates, HATES the gays because deep down I secretly get aroused ev’ry time that cute Justin Beiber comes on the picture box! SOooo-EEEE! A-hyuk.

  12. Common Cents says:

    “Its current policy states that the topic of sexual orientation isn’t part of the curriculum and is best addressed outside the schools” – Amen Brotha!

    The birds and the bees talks belong in the home, I send my children to school to learn academics, not someones opinion on sexual oreintation!!!!!!!

  13. hunnybear18 says:

    What’s wrong with don’t bully, haze or pick on anyone regardless of who they are or who you perceive them to be. Do your schoolwork and respect others or find another school. The good taxpayers of MN are not paying so you can pick on someone and make yourself feel good. They are paying for an education, which you will do your best to make sure that happens, or find another school.

  14. whimps says:

    teach the basics, this cr@p has to go

  15. Sam says:

    I wonder what the Rabbi would say in the case of a kid who committed suicide because he was being picked on for being Jewish. I mean, he wants teachers to not be able to speak up on controversial topics. Religion is a controversial topic, too. It just happens that, this time, it centered around sexuality, rather than religion.
    By the current policy, teachers wouldn’t be able to step in when it came to religious harassment, either.

  16. justwrong says:

    I have lived with, went to school with, and worked with many teachers. They are not therapists and should stick to the 3 R’s.
    Our education system is a joke. Our students can’t pass math tests. How well will teachers do on a subject like this when they can’t handle 2+2?
    We are asking teachers to handle responsibilities because the parents won’t. It seems like the wrong option is being chosen all around.

  17. Wake Up says:

    So lets see – we want to stop bullying by bullying the school board – we want all of our children to be treated as equals, but lets pass more rules that blatantly effect one segment of the population. I’m beginning to think these people just like to hear the sound of there own voice. You guys really aren’t doing the kids any favors and your most likely do more harm than good.

  18. Murph says:

    It does not take a cro magnon like me to tell you young folk how to manage your affairs ,all of mine are far behind me! But IF you are looking for a hero.You need to SLOW down and accept the truth when it,after 1,000 republican challenges emerges!Sure I can shoot deer,grouse, and snowshoe rabbits and survive.BUT.. what about you city people?The republicans want you to have ZERO dollars left over after the bills.Work for nothing and we will reward you {they say} with what ??!YOU have to give them an alternarative solution! I have one for them,join me with it or make it your own plan of survival.When I run out of funds and house and everything that I own.I won’t TAKE it from you .BUT>> I make no promises,NO PROMISES to them.! NONE!! BECAUSE I BELIEVE IN JUSTICE AND JUSTICE ,BE DONE! “Don’t tread on me! AND.. I sure as shoot mean IT!There is absolutely no place in America for the Republican Party! They should all be hung by their turkey necks until all the oil runs out of them and their disgusting cadavers.I have more empathy for an ant and if you look inside yourselves,so do you! Speak srrong or speak wrong!

    1. hunnybear18 says:

      Wow. Put down the pipe.

    2. Counterpt says:

      Murph and Citizen frequently support each other’s views, and yet it’s their belief the other side are the haters and bigots. Thanks Murph, for showing us your true colors. What Murph and Citizen don’t realize is that when you have a belief that something is wrong, it doesn’t mean that you hate that person. It may mean you hate the wrong…the behavior…the action…but not the person. That’s a big difference that the left can’t seem to understand when the other side disagrees with them. If someone on the right harms or disrespects the individual on the left with a different view, that is a behaavior or action that is just as wrong.

      Citizen believes that only the right-wing parents are enlisting the schools to help them. What about the left-wing parents enlisting the schools to give their children the strong self-esteem they have failed to give them? If name calling is a form of bullying and should be punishable, then what punishment do you give yourselves there, Murph and Citizen? Our children learn from example, and there is no doubt in my mind that when the adults aren’t able to disagree with others and respect them without the name calling and bullying attempts, that our children have learned from both the right and left that same behavior.

      We are all citizens of this American society, we have the right to fight for what we believe in and to fight for the rules and laws that dictate how we as a group of people are to live by. While we may have our disagreements, it’s long past time for adults to start acting like adults and learn to “respectfully disagree” with others.

  19. Blake McGraw says:

    Hey guys, Will be the U.S. far better off keeping Syria’s Assad?

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