Teachers Against District’s ‘Controversial’ Topics Ban


Teachers in the Anoka-Hennepin school district have spoken out against proposed changes to the district’s failed policy that effectively bans mentioning LGBTs in the classroom, saying that the new policy which bans ‘controversial’ topics would amount to the same thing.

The teachers union of Minnesota’s largest school district urged the school board at a meeting on Monday night to drop both the new “controversial topics” ban as well as the old policy, officially termed as a “neutrality policy” but often referred to as the “don’t say gay” gag rule by opponents, which has been heavily criticized for allowing anti-LGBT bullying to persist in the district.

From the Associated Press:

Julie Blaha, president of the Anoka-Hennepin district’s local of the Education Minnesota union, told the board that the union supports dropping the current policy. She called the discussion “a good step” toward improving the climate for discussing contentious issues.

But she said the proposed replacement — which would require teachers to refrain from stating their views on controversial topics — isn’t needed and should at least be changed so that students’ identities aren’t defined as controversial.

“We need to clearly differentiate between what is an issue and what is somebody’s identity. We agree that teachers should not promote a personal agenda in the classroom. Our role’s not to tell students what to think but help them think more deeply,” Blaha said.

Around 80 people turned up to the meeting and, according to the AP, none supported the new policy. Two Anoka High School seniors, Rachel Hawley and Emily Hall, also presented petitions to the board. The petitions, signed by over 350 students, advocated abandoning the “neutrality” policy and also scrapping its “controversial topics” replacement.

Even those against homosexuality said they would rather keep the old policy than have a vague new policy.

The district currently has a unique stance relating to LGBT topics in that it instructs teachers to remain “neutral,” that is to say they cannot appear to affirm that being gay or trans is normal or acceptable but at the same time should not be seen to condemn pupils. As such there is no explicit ban on mentioning LGBTs in the classroom but the policy has nevertheless created a chilling atmosphere where LGBT pupils and LGBT-related issues are concerned because teachers feel their jobs might be in danger if they violate the rule and have instead, critics argue, been turning a blind eye to anti-LGBT bullying.

The embattled school district is currently the subject of two lawsuits with several students claiming that because they were being bullied over their perceived or actual sexual orientation or gender identity the policy meant that teachers were unable or unwilling to do anything to properly tackle the bullying. The district is also under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department over complaints of pervasive harassment in the district’s schools. This follows at least seven young people in the district having  taken their own lives over the past two years, with a majority of those deaths attributed, at least in part, to bullying.  However, district officials say neither the lawsuit nor the federal investigation have prompted the proposed change.

That is not to say that the ban on “controversial topics” hasn’t received some support. When first proposed, the concept was said to have found cautious favor with some teachers, but the question remained over whether teachers would feel sufficiently confident under the new policy to act against LGBT bullying and, moreover, prevent it in the future when they still would not be able to affirm LGBT identity.

The school board is expected to vote on the new policy on January 23.

Related Reading:

Anoka-Hennepin School District Sued Over Anti-LGBT Bullying

Sixth Bullied Student Sues Minnesota School District

LGBT Morning Mix: Lady Gaga Vows Action Over Bullying Deaths


Photo used under Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to John Steven Fernandez.


SeattleAnn S.
Ann S6 years ago

Wow, didn't expect this in Minnesota. Hope the teachers put some sense into the school board.

Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson6 years ago

so they are censoring what can be said.. in a public place? the plot thickens... sigh

Catt R.
Catt R6 years ago

So.... if student A turns in homework in student B's handwriting... whiteout over name and their name written over the top, and explains that their hand hurt so they dictated and student B wrote it for them; student B claims that student A stole his homework;
This is now a controversial subject... it must be, there are opposing sides to the subject --- now the teacher is not allowed to have an opinion???? saying a teacher may not speak about "any controversial subject" is a bit counter productive. The only thinking done by some students will be new ways to make the life of others more miserable.

William Y.
William Y6 years ago

You got that right Alice B.

Jane Barton
Jane Barton6 years ago

Lynne B. Lynne B.
8:38AM PST on Jan 12, 2012

I'm glad that the teachers recognise how wrong this is. The district aren't helping children learn about respect and tolerance. It's looking to preach ignorance, intolerance and bigotry towards anyone they consider 'different'. What a sad bunch of people. they should be shamed for bringing their own bigotry to the childrens education.

Yes, those sad bunch of people would include the Christian evangelist bigots and the
Republicans running for President. Bullying is a hate crime and these people are criminals.
Schools are being used to promote religious propaganda instead of teaching children how to think and reason, get a job, keep a job and balance their checkbook. The Christian Taliban
must keep children ignorant so they will go to war and die for nothing so Dick Cheney, Bush and their cronies can get richer.

James Campbell
James Campbell6 years ago

In the UK we had a similar ‘gem’ of legislation. “Section 28” was enacted in 1988 and later repealed in 2000 in Scotland, and 2003 in the rest of Great Britain. It stated that “A local authority shall not intentionally promote homosexuality or publish material with the intention of promoting homosexuality" or "promote the teaching in any maintained school of the acceptability of homosexuality as a pretended family relationship" As a result many teachers believed that it imposed constraints in respect of the advice and counselling they give to pupils. The outcome of this confusion was a marked increase in victimisation and violence in schools against gay youngsters or those ‘suspected ‘ of being gay. A teacher's role is to impart knowledge and that includes all aspects of human life and relationships. Section 28 failed because it was drawn up by those who had little or no understanding of education and even less about the lives of gay people. Seems as if the same mistake could be repeated here

Christopher Fowler

Controversy and even dissent are embedded in American culture. Were it not for controversy, this nation would not exist. Telling teachers and students that they cannot address things because they are controversial is just plain stupid.

When I was a kid, Vietnam was in full swing, all the way into high school, it was a topic in the social sciences, along with all of the other issues of gender equality, the economy and everything else that we are still dealing with today.

We have to allow these topics to be discussed in the classrooms as they affect everyone at every age. To not allow it is ridiculous and as un-American as a dictatorship.

Linda T.
Linda T6 years ago

Wow. Talk about losing teaching moments. What has our society come to

wesley a.
wes Allen6 years ago

I am wondering why so many school districts in this day and time no longer use anything that even resembles common sense.

Joe R.
Joe R6 years ago

I hope the law suits go forward and that the people of Anoka-Hennepin are held accountable for the damage they've done.