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Minn. School District Reevaluates Discussion of Sexual Orientation Issues

Minn. School District Reevaluates Discussion of Sexual Orientation Issues

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The Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota is moving toward changing its policy mandating teacher neutrality in discussion of sexual orientation -- but opinions are mixed on whether the new policy will make life better for LGBT students.

The proposed policy, unveiled this week, will be considered at the school board meeting Monday. It "acknowledges the importance of discussing controversial topics in class -- but would state that teachers and staff should not advocate their personal opinions," Minnesota Public Radio reports.

There have been reports of widespread anti-LGBT bullying within the district, which is the state's largest, located in a suburban area northwest of Minneapolis-St. Paul. In the past two years, several students from the district, some reportedly gay or bisexual, have committed suicide. School officials have said the suicides were not linked to bullying, but reports of a hostile environment for LGBT students have resulted in an investigation by the U.S. Education and Justice Departments, and lawsuits filed jointly by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center on behalf of past and present students.

Jonathan Plotz, an English teacher at Anoka High School, told the Associated Press the proposed new policy seems like a positive move. "I felt like before, I was prevented from having frank discussions take place in my classroom regarding sexual orientation," he said. "I think that now, based on my initial reading, it has become what I've always tried to do when discussing any controversial topic."

Another teacher, Jefferson Fletek, who is a gay-straight alliance adviser, expressed reservations. "My concern is with the use of the word 'controversial.' ... What exactly does that mean and who decides?" he told St. Paul's Pioneer Press newspaper. He hopes there will be ample and clear training on how to apply the policy, he added.

Southern Poverty Law Center staff attorney Sam Wolfe praised the district for reevaluating its policy but would not say if the changes would satisfy the lawsuits' demand for better protection of LGBT students. The proposed new policy will receive its first reading at Monday's board meeting, and the board could vote on it as early as January.

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