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(Image Source: WCCO)
BY SCOTT MACDONALD
ANCHOR LAUREN ZIMA
Eight students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District have committed suicide in the past two years. Now the district has voted to remove a controversial policy from its books. WCCO has more.
“The new Respectful Learning Environment policy in the Anoka-Hennepin School District says that teachers ‘should not attempt to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint’ and they should ‘affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students.”
Nearly 20 years ago the district, the largest in the state, enacted a policy preventing sex ed teachers from talking about homosexuality as a normal lifestyle. Then in 2009, the school board required teachers to remain neutral on such topics. As the New York Times reports, that’s when the suicides began . . .
“ … leading state officials to declare a ‘suicide contagion.’ Whether antigay bullying contributed to any of these deaths is sharply disputed; some friends and teachers say four of the students were struggling with issues of sexual identity.”
Some in the district argued the old policy restrained teachers from stopping bullying. Others saw efforts to repeal as a push to bring a homosexual agenda into schools, and formed the Parents Action League. Its website states support for the neutrality policy.
“This policy prevents district staff from undermining the very values and beliefs that parents have the right to instill in their children and keeps our classrooms focused on core academics.”
Similarly, Chuck Darrell of the Minnesota Family Council urged the district to address bullying without taking sides on contentious topics.
“... the Minnesota Family Council stands strongly opposed to all kinds of bullying, and that includes GLBT students. However, we believe that bullying policies should focus on the wrong behavior of the bullies and not on the characteristics of the victim.”
Many major media outlets picked up on the story. District superintendent Dennis Carlson called an article in Rolling Stone a "brutal and distorted attack” on the district. Here’s an excerpt from that article.
"‘LGBTQ students don't feel safe at school,’ says Anoka Middle School for the Arts teacher Jefferson Fietek. ‘They're made to feel ashamed of who they are. They're bullied. And there's no one to stand up for them, because teachers are afraid of being fired.’”
In the wake of the national coverage, the school board announced it was looking into revising the neutrality policy, and invited community discussion. Monday’s meeting had ninety minutes of debate from both sides. The American Independent quoted one.
“A grandmother named Susan appeared before the board to testify against the more inclusive policy. ‘The classroom is no place to push the homosexual agenda,’ [she said.] ‘We have people trying to shove this lifestyle down our throat trying to teach our children what it is all about.’”
KMSP shows a view from Anoka-Hennepin student Macky Barnette.
“... why can we not acknowledge that something in our system is wrong? Whether kids in our schools like it or not, someday they will come in contact with a gay or lesbian person, and, whether that be at work or in college, they need to be respectful.”
In the end, the board voted 5-1 to adopt the new Respectful Learning Environment policy. The Pioneer Press reports that most board members were happy with the vote. But the next step for the district is to settle two lawsuits brought by students who accuse the school board of subjecting them to a hostile learning environment.
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