By Anna Jaffray
The Anoka-Hennepin district reached a legal agreement last Monday with the Federal Departments of Justice and Education in response to civil rights violations in the district. The Departments of Justice and Education have been investigating the district on such violations due to repeated complaints and six lawsuits for unchecked bullying against LGBT students.
In November 2010, the Justice and Education Departments received dozens of complaints from students in the Anoka-Hennepin district, just north of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Six additional students filed a lawsuit last July with the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights due to an unsafe environment for LGBT students in the district. According to the agreement, the district will be monitored for five years by the Departments of Justice and Education.
While federal officials were happy to step in to monitor the sprawling school district on behalf of LGBT youth, the government still wavers where national gay rights are concerned. Federal assistant attorney general for civil rights, Thomas E. Perez, said in an interview with the New York Times, “This is not about whether to advocate gay marriage, this is about safety,” dodging the core issue of basic human rights for all citizens.
The initial policy put forth by Anoka-Hennepin was a botched attempt at appeasing both sides of the argument; those who wish to discuss LGBT issues in classrooms and those who felt that homosexuality and gender identities are immoral. The district had previously decided to adopt a “neutral” policy, dubbed the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, which would discard any questions regarding sexual orientation and gender identity. However, many teachers came forth stating this policy was not supportive of LGBT students and that this policy allowed the district to remain a hostile environment.
Under pressure from the federal government, the newly drafted curriculum policy states, “…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.” The curriculum also acknowledged that it is not the role of the district to take sides on such issues.
The people of the Anoka-Hennepin area remain divided in terms of political and religious beliefs, causing a rift amongst the district’s parents. The Parents Action League was quickly formed as an affinity group of Anoka-Hennepin parents against the new curriculum.
The Action League stated in a testimony to the district’s school board on January 9th that they reject the new policy because it would, “…subject a child to homosexual and related conduct indoctrination without proper consent and that removing the protective Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy…will undermine the academic focus of this district.” The parents group also calls for a parallel or alternative curriculum which provides a safe-space for students who are “pro-family,” “ex-homosexuals,” and those with “moral conviction.”
Regardless of the Action League‘s efforts, the district is pushing forward with its new, inclusive curriculum in an effort to embrace and protect all students. The new curriculum will include strengthening tactics against bullying based on gender and sexual orientation, hiring a full-time “harassment-prevention” official, improving counseling curriculum and identifying harassment “hot spots” on campuses. The students who sued the district will receive a total of $270,000 in compensation.
District Superintendent Dennis Carlson said in September 2011 regarding the issue, “I think adults are much more interested in making us into a political battlefield than the kids are,” recognizing how adults in the Anoka-Hennepin community were compromising kids’ safety in the district. In February 2012, Carlson said “Kids are bullied for being gay across this country on a daily basis, and we need to make sure all schools are safer for them.”