Saturday, August 6, 2011

Brody's Notes... Minnesota's Largest Daily Newspaper Calls Anoka-Hennepin Schools Policies On LGBTQ Students 'Gutless'

By Brody Levesque | MINNEAPOLIS, MINNESOTA -- The Minneapolis Star-Tribune newspaper's editorial board in a sharply worded op-ed criticism of the Anoka-Hennepin School District- Minnesota's largest schools district- Thursday wrote:
The Anoka-Hennepin School District never seems to learn its lesson on the treatment of gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) students.
Now the state's largest school district is facing a federal investigation into harassment complaints and a lawsuit alleging that it failed to protect kids from bullying and injury.
The paper writes that the officials of Anoka-Hennepin schools hide behind out-of-touch policy, that is "a gutless 'neutrality' on GLBT issues."
The U. S. Justice Department together in a joint task-force investigation with the U. S. Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights are looking into "allegations of harassment and discrimination in the Anoka-Hennepin School District based on sex, including peer-on-peer harassment based on not conforming to gender stereotypes.
"Our investigation is ongoing," said Justice Department spokeswoman Xochitl Hinojosa. She declined to say what complaint or complaints had sparked the federal inquiry.
This investigation comes at a time in the suburban Minneapolis school district as the community is already engaged in a tense culture war over approaching the subject of homosexuality in the classroom.
Late last month, the Star-Tribune reported that the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), National Center for Lesbian Rights and the local Minneapolis law firm Faegre & Benson filed suit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District, claiming that staff members didn't do enough for students bullied because of their perceived or actual sexual orientation.
The federal lawsuit was filed on behalf of five current and former students, who say they've been peppered with demeaning slurs, stabbed with pencils, even urinated on by classmates. It seeks to end the district's sexual orientation curriculum policy, which allows teachers to discuss sexual orientation issues but requires them to maintain neutrality.
"The Anoka-Hennepin School District, where we stand today, has refused to take a stand against harassment and bullying," said Mary Bauer of the Alabama-based SPLC. "This policy sends a message to kids that who they are is not OK. Our plaintiffs have stood up and said 'no more.'"
In addition to seeking to end the policy, commonly called the "neutrality policy," the suit also asks for compensation for the students who say they were repeatedly bullied because they are or were perceived to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender (GLBT).
The newspaper's editorial board in Thursday's column takes aim squarely at Anoka-Hennepin superintendent Dennis Carlson who was quoted as saying:
"I do take a middle-of-the-road approach, and I don't apologize for it,'' he said. "If I'm getting an equal amount of hate mail from the left and right, I feel like I'm on solid ground."
The Star-Tribune disagrees writing:
What Carlson fails to see is that other districts that are more purple than red or blue are clear about their stands on GLBT issues. Edina, for example, has strong policies against harassment and bullying -- without a neutrality clause.
While polls show that Americans increasingly favor tolerance and equal rights for gays, Anoka-Hennepin is stuck in the past, hiding behind an ambiguous policy in the name of neutrality.
It's simply wrong not to do everything possible to prevent harassment or bullying of children who may strike some of their peers as different.
Hopefully the district can prevent a lengthy, expensive court battle by rewriting its policies and establishing diversity training that would bring meaningful progress on GLBT issues.
To do otherwise is to turn its back on a vulnerable group of students.


Melissa Thompson said...

A huge part of the problem here in the Anoka-Hennepin school district is the undue influence of Barb Anderson and the Minnesota Family Council and their insistance that the school board impose their "radical, political, religious beliefs" on everyone in our district. The school board has denied any connection between itself and this political organization yet Barb Anderson is on record claiming victory for getting the "neutrality policy" written and implemented and keeping anything and everything LGBTQ out of our schools. I recently recieved an email directly from the head of PAL revealing the connection between MFC and PAL a conservative, anti-gay so-called parent group that was founded by none other than... Barb Anderson of the Minnesota Family Council which provided the proof that not only are they connected they are deliberately misleading the public and misrepresenting the facts. They sent out an "alert" to tax payers warning them that the district would use their tax dollars to "teach homosexuality" unless the reader signed their petition in support of keeping the discriminatory neautrality policy. I think people would be absolutely shocked at the tactics being employed here, it makes you wonder what year it really is.

Mrs. Melissa Thompson
Parent/ AH School District