MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The board of Minnesota's largest school district prepared to vote Monday night on a replacement for a policy that requires teachers to stay neutral when sexual orientation comes up in class, a stance that has been blamed for fostering bullying.
The new policy would commit the Anoka-Hennepin School District to providing "a safe and respectful learning environment for all students." It says when contentious issues come up — including sexuality but also political, religious or social matters — teachers shouldn't try to persuade students of any particular viewpoint. It calls for teachers to foster respectful exchanges of views.
It also says in such discussions, staff should affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students.
The proposal was unveiled at a Jan. 23 school board meeting after an earlier revision attempt left all sides unsatisfied. If the board adopts the proposal, the new policy would take effect immediately.
The district's teachers union has endorsed the policy change. Julie Blaha, the local union's president, said the union proposed some minor wording changes for clarity.
The district is the target of two lawsuits over the old policy.
Critics say the neutrality policy keeps teachers from preventing bullying of students who are gay or perceived as gay. It has the support of some parents who believe homosexual conduct is immoral and don't want their children taught otherwise.
The policy has been under fire since six students in the district committed suicide in less than two years. A parent of one of the students who committed suicide says her son was bullied for being gay. Gay advocacy groups say some of the others students who killed themselves were also bullied.
The district has said its internal investigation found no evidence that bullying contributed to the deaths. But the district, which has 38,500 students, changed its anti-bullying and anti-harassment policies in October 2010 to clearly state that harassment or bullying of gay students wouldn't be tolerated.
The district has about 38,500 students and 2,800 teachers in the northern Twin Cities suburbs.
U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau has scheduled the next round of settlement talks for March 1-2 in two lawsuits filed by students, former students and parents against the neutrality policy. Both sides have been keeping those discussions confidential.