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I avoided the Anoka-Hennepin School Board meeting this week and then avoided local press. I couldn't get myself to attend the school board meeting because I've been internally struggling with how I feel about the new Respectful Learning Environment Policy. I also didn't think I could just sit there anymore, listening to public hate speech about LGBTQ people from the same extremists I've listened to for the last 18 months.
The truth is that ever since superintendent Denny Carlson sent out a voice mail to teachers and staff last week regarding the Rolling Stone magazine article, saying that it "contains a brutal and distorted attack on our school district and staff" and then adding that "this is a vicious insult to all of you that have worked so hard to make this district and community a better place," I have been feeling extremely hurt. I had met one-on-one with Carlson only weeks before, and I honestly believed him to be a caring person and was very hopeful that he would do his best for our kids. I stated as much publicly at a previous board meeting.
To hear this voice mail, he seems to take the supposed blame from Rolling Stone (via our voices) and puts it on the teachers and staff, hurting them for no reason, since the article specifically mentions the school board and many local evangelists who are actually hurting the students. Carlson tries to play the victim's role again, but this time not only for him and the school board but also trying to include the entire staff as victims -- which they aren't. At most, teachers are victims of the "neutrality policy" for having their hands tied. That much I would agree to.
The district also sent out a public statement pretending there aren't as many critics as actually exist out there, saying, "Three or four highly critical individuals do not represent the many quality administrators and 2,700 highly professional teachers who care deeply about our students and work each day not only to educate them, but also to keep them safe." Here again, Carlson implies that we are liars and that they are the victims. What about all the kids alive going to school here who are actually being brutally attacked both verbally and physically? What about the suicide victims (where bullying was a component) and their hurting families? What about the LGBTQ youth who grow up never learning anything positive about who they are and hearing only the negative? Are they not the true victims?
The above voice mail by Carlson and the public statement released last week are reasons I'm not very excited about the Respectful Learning Environment Policy. They already had this policy in the works, yet Carlson and the school board sent out messages like this to the public. I'm so happy that the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy has been taken away but can't yet feel excited about the new policy until I see some real change.
Upon reading the new policy, I'm already confused about whether or not any type of LGBT history will be taught because there are two paragraphs that seem to contradict each other, which makes me nervous and fearful. If they still cannot believe or accept that they had a problem, how can real change happen?
I am happy that the district has included more training opportunities, but I would love to see these be more inclusive and some being provided during the school day so students can learn more on bullying and suicide, among other issues they may need to know about. I also believe Anoka-Hennepin as well as other school districts should write up a procedure protocol to follow when dealing with bullying and harassment. They could watch a video on empathy and being nice to people or maybe on how they could have handled a situation differently. Another opportunity could be to find out if something is going on with the bully and if help is needed.
Thanks so much to the Southern Poverty Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and Faegre and Benson for working so hard to get the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy removed. This is a huge start. I really hope this is just a first step of many that need to happen at Anoka-Hennepin. Thanks so much to the youth around the country who have made their voices heard against discrimination. You have the power to make things happen.
TAMMY AABERG led a petition that delivered tens of thousands of signatures to her congresswoman, Michele Bachmann, calling for action on antigay bullying in schools. Her 15-year-old son, Justin, killed himself in 2010.