Anoka-Hennepin School District Ends Silence Policy Toward Sexual Orientation

UPDATE – 2/14/12: The school board placed this information on their website about the change (scroll down to see the approved policy):

The Anoka-Hennepin School District has a new policy designed to promote a respectful learning environment in which teachers facilitate student discussions of contentious topics in a balanced and impartial manner that encourages development of critical thinking and decision-making skills.

“I believe this policy is the best thing for Anoka-Hennepin and for all students,” said Board Chair Tom Heidemann, who went on to say it “takes away some of the confusion that existed in the previous policy.”

The School Board approved the Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy Feb. 13 following more than two months of discussion and hours of public input regarding replacement of the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy (SOCP). Some teachers felt that the SOCP was confusing. Board members asked the administration to bring forward a new policy that would eliminate the confusion.

The board sought a policy that would address any issues that may be contentious instead of focusing on specific topics. (The new policy replaces the Religious Activities Policy as well as the SOCP.) They also wanted to ensure that staff would not attempt to persuade students to adopt a particular viewpoint, and to clarify that the board-adopted curriculum is the basis for education in district schools.

After rejecting an earlier proposal in December when public input revealed little support for it, staff developed the Respectful Learning Environment-Curriculum Policy and presented it to the board Jan. 23. According to Paul Cady, district general counsel, the new policy meets the intent of the board, responds to public input, and reflects academic research on how to best deal with issues of public controversy that may arise in the classroom.

“It’s not the district’s role to take a position on these issues and it’s not acceptable for professional staff to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint,” said Chair Heidemann. This was one of several elements he felt were missing in the previous policy.

He also stressed that the district’s curriculum will not change as the result of adopting the Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy. “Curriculum changes only if there are four votes on this School Board,” Heidemann said.

Board member John Hoffman noted that the district has a transparent process for adopting curriculum and community members have the right to participate in that process.

Board members also stressed that the new policy emphasizes a safe and respectful learning environment for all students. “It gets to the intent of our founding fathers of this great state and ensures all are welcome to participate in this wonderful experience of free, public education,” said Hoffman

Board member Scott Wenzel stressed that by adopting the Respectful Learning Environment-Curriculum Policy the board removes a policy that singles out one minority group and establishes the dignity and self-worth of all students. “I believe our teachers always have the best interests of students at heart. [This policy] provides the reassurance that our teachers will continue to do that.”

The proposed policy opens with a commitment to a safe and respectful learning environment for all students and an education that respects all students and their families. It stresses that teachers must follow the board-adopted curriculum, which is based on state standards, and it acknowledges that political, religious, social or economic issues may be contentious in a learning environment “in which conflicting views are held by a broad segment of people in our schools, our community and our nation.”

The policy states that the district does not take positions on these issues and that staff shall not attempt to “persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint with respect to these issues.” When contentious issues are discussed in classrooms, it states that the discussions must be appropriate for the developmental level of students, related to the course content, and presented in a balanced manner with varying points of view. They should be designed to help students “think critically and develop decision-making skills and techniques for examining and understanding differing opinions.”

It closes by stating that in these discussions, staff “shall affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students.”

………

Earlier tonight, various news sources reported that the Anoka-Hennepin School Board was considering a replacement for their gag policy on teacher discussions of sexual orientation. The old policy forbid teachers from discussing with students aspects of sexual orientation as a reality.

(Read policy after the break)

Here is the policy that was voted on:

Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy 1-21-2012

The Board is committed to providing a safe and respectful learning environment and to providing an education that respects all students and families.

It is the professional responsibility of the teacher to follow the Board-adopted curriculum, which is designed to meet Minnesota state standards.

Political, religious, social, or economic issues may become contentious in a learning environment in which conflicting views are held by a broad segment of people in our schools, our community, and the nation.

It is not the District’s role to take positions on these issues. Teachers and educational support staff shall not attempt in the course of their professional duties to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint with respect to these issues.

Curricular discussions of such issues shall be appropriate to the maturity and developmental level of students; be of significance to course content; and be presented in an impartial, balanced and objective manner, allowing respectful exchange of varying points of view. Lessons shall be designed to help students think critically and develop decision-making skills and techniques for examining and understanding differing opinions.

In the course of discussions of such issues, district staff shall affirm the dignity and self worth of all students, regardless of their race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex/gender, marital status, disability, status with regard to public assistance, sexual orientation, age, family care leave status or veteran status.

Apparently, the board did vote to implement a policy that allows such discussions and requires teachers to affirm the dignity of all students. According to Christine Sun of the Southern Poverty Law Center, the old policy is gone:

Just in: Anoka Hennepin school district gets rid of sexual orientation gag policy. More work to be done, but gag policy is done and gone.

Anoka-Hennepin is the school in Michele Bachmann’s Congressional district which has suffered through an epidemic of student suicides.

Here is what the school board posted about their proposed actions this evening:

The Anoka-Hennepin School Board is expected to take formal action Feb. 13 on a proposed policy that would replace the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy and the Religious Activities Policy.

The board had asked several months ago for an alternative policy to address a number of issues, including concerns by some teachers that the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy prevented them from addressing harassment or bullying of students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender. While that policy referred only to curriculum and did not in any way prevent teachers from intervening in bullying or harassment, some board members suggested the administration bring forward a new policy that would eliminate the confusion.

Paul Cady, district general counsel, said the board also wanted the new policy to address other issues that may be controversial instead of focusing on a specific topic; to ensure that staff not persuade students to adopt a particular viewpoint; and to ensure that the “board-adopted curriculum remains the foundation of education in Anoka-Hennepin Schools.”

After rejecting an earlier proposal when public input revealed little support for it, staff developed the Respectful Learning Environment-Curriculum Policy and presented it to the board Jan. 23. Cady said this policy meets the intent of the board, responds to public input, and reflects academic research on how to best deal with issues of public controversy that may arise in the classroom.

The proposed policy opens with a commitment to a safe and respectful learning environment for all students and an education that respects all students and their families. It stresses that teachers must follow the board-adopted curriculum, which is based on state standards, and it acknowledges that political, religious, social or economic issues may be contentious in a learning environment “in which conflicting views are held by a broad segment of people in our schools, our community and our nation.”

The policy states that the district does not take positions on these issues and that staff shall not attempt to “persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint with respect to these issues.” When contentious issues are discussed in classrooms, it states that the discussions must be appropriate for the developmental level of students, related to the course content and presented in a balanced manner with varying points of view. They should be designed to help students “think critically and develop decision-making skills and techniques for examining and understanding differing opinions.”

It closes by stating that in these discussions, staff “shall affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students.”

If the Respectful Learning Environment – Curriculum Policy is adopted, there would be no change in current practice or curriculum, according to Associate Superintendent Jinger Gustafson.

AP has a bit more…

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  • StraightGrandmother

    I am very pleased to see the new Southern Poverty Law Center’s ***HATE GROUP*** List.

    New this year is Parents Action League. That is the parents group that was trying to run the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

    Here is a list of the New Hate Group List.

    I notice there are several Baptist Churches Listed as well as ministries.

    http://www.splcenter.org/get-informed/intelligence-files/ideology/anti-gay/active_hate_groups

    Here is the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Overview Report-

    Opposition to equal rights for gays and lesbians has been a central theme of Christian Right organizing and fundraising for the past three decades – a period that parallels the fundamentalist movement’s rise to political power.

    For Christian Right leaders, the gay rights movement and its so-called “homosexual agenda” are the prime culprits in the destruction of American society and culture. In the words of Focus on the Family founder James Dobson, the battle against gay rights is essentially a “second civil war” to put control of the U.S. government in the right hands, meaning those who reject gay rights.

    The religious right in America has employed a variety of strategies in its efforts to beat back the increasingly confident gay rights movement. One of those has been defamation. Many of its leaders have engaged in the crudest type of name-calling, describing LGBT people as “perverts” with “filthy habits” who seek to snatch the children of straight parents and “convert” them to gay sex. They have disseminated disparaging “facts” about gays that are simply untrue — assertions that are remarkably reminiscent of the way white intellectuals and scientists once wrote about the “bestial” black man and his supposedly threatening sexuality.

    I would love to see the Alliance Defense Fund and Liberty Counsel make the list but they seem to stay just an itty bit on this side of the line without crossing it.

    Perhaps as they loose, and loose, and loose we will watch them cross the line, I bet they do.


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