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Minn. school board could change bullying policy
Board of largest Minn. school district could replace policy on sexual orientation, bullying
By The Associated Press

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) ' The school board in Minnesota's largest school district was preparing to vote Monday night on a replacement for a policy that requires teachers to stay neutral when issues of sexual orientation come up in class but has been blamed for fostering bullying.

The proposed "Respectful Learning Environment" commits the Anoka-Hennepin School District to providing "a safe and respectful learning environment for all students." It acknowledges that contentious political, religious, social or economic issues may come up in school. When they do, it says, teachers should not attempt to persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint on those issues, but should foster respectful exchanges of views.

It states that in these discussions, staff should affirm the dignity and self-worth of all students, regardless of race, gender, religion or sexual orientation.

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, president of the Anoka-Hennepin local of Education Minnesota, said the union has proposed some minor wording changes for clarity but they're not deal-breakers.

The district is the target of two lawsuits over the old policy, which says the topic of sexual orientation isn't part of the curriculum and is best addressed outside the schools, but that if the subject comes up during student-led discussions, teachers are to remain neutral.

Critics say the neutrality policy hampers teachers from effectively preventing bullying of students who are gay or perceived as gay. Supporters of keeping it include 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. 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.

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