February 16, 2012 - The Monday before our show, the Anoka-Hennepin school board repealed its controversial Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, voting 5 to 1 to replace it with a policy that emphasizes “respectful exchanges of views” during classroom discussions of issues around sexual orientation. This controversy in Minnesota’s largest school district has drawn nationwide attention, including an article in the February 2nd, 2012 Rolling Stone.
In the more than two years since Anoka-Hennepin Public Schools announced a policy of “curricular neutrality” about LGBT issues, local headlines have described political acrimony, allegations of four related student suicides and, most recently, new sources of outside pressure. Last week the Southern Poverty Law Center and National Center for Lesbian Rights announced that talks aimed at doing away with the policy had failed and the groups were filing a federal suit alleging students’ civil rights had been violated. At the same time, the U.S. departments of justice and education announced formal investigations. The district, meanwhile, has defended its policy and called for the organizations filing the suits to instead pitch in and help conduct staff training.
The repealed policy, which had required teachers to remain neutral when the topic of sexual orientation came up in class, had been blamed by some for fostering bullying of students who are gay or perceived as gay, and left many teachers wondering what they can or can’t say when a gay student is being bullied or harassed.
The Anoka-Hennepin school district has found itself in the spotlight not only for the sheer number of suicides but bee cause it is accused of having contributed to the death toll by cultivating an extreme anti-gay climate. Julie Blaha, Education Minnesota’s President of the Anoka-Hennepin district, spoke with us about the issue.