Teachers union backs sexuality policy change

Students address the school board
A group of about 20 students, mostly from Anoka High School, stood before the Anoka-Hennepin school board on Monday, Jan. 23, 2012, presenting their views on a revised policy that focuses on how teachers should handle controversial topics, including homosexuality, when they come up in class.
MPR Photo/Tom Weber

The teachers' union in the state's largest school district has offered its qualified support to changes in the district's approach to gay and lesbian students.

The Anoka-Hennepin chapter of Education Minnesota endorsed the proposed Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy on Monday night that would prevent teachers from influencing students on controversial topics.

The policy would bar teachers from influencing students on controversial topics. The language would replace the district's current policy requiring that educators remain neutral on issues of sexual orientation.

Critics say the district's existing neutrality policy on human sexuality hampers teachers from effectively preventing bullying of students who are gay or perceived as gay, and the district is the target of two lawsuits challenging it. Supporters of the policy include parents who believe homosexual conduct is immoral and don't want teachers telling their children that gay relationships are acceptable.

"Ultimately we don't necessarily believe a new policy is needed as long as the old policy is repealed," said Julie Blaha, president of the teachers' union. "However, we're glad to hear the board heard our concerns. We feel we incorporated them into this new draft. And we believe the policy reflects what will work for our students."

The union has about 2,700 members in the northern suburban Twin Cities district of about 38,500 students.

The draft proposal says it's not the district's role to take positions on contentious political, religious, social, or economic issues, and teachers and staff should not try to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint on such issues. It says discussions of these issues should be presented in an impartial, balanced and objective manner, allowing a respectful exchange of views. And during these discussions, it says, teachers and staffers should affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students regardless of race, religion, gender or sexual orientation.

"This really seemed to be much more clear, and much more clearly aligned with what we know works in the classroom," she said. "We had just a few minor changes, but it was a big improvement over the last policy.

The school board is scheduled to vote on the change on Feb. 13.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report.)