Minnesota Schools are Investigated After Seven Students Commit Suicide
A public school district in Minnesota is being investigated by federal authorities due to “allegations of harassment and discrimination in the Anoka-Hennepin School District based on sex, including peer-on-peer harassment based on not conforming to gender stereotypes.” This investigation will delve into a serious issue that is facing many students today: bullying. Specifically, it came about after seven students from this school district committed suicide in less than two years after they were possibly bullied about their sexual orientation.
In 2009, the Anoka-Hennepin adopted a controversial policy that says the staff must “remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation” because “such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches or community organizations.” Supporters of the investigation claim that this policy prevents teachers from stopping bullies from attacking students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, or have another form of sexual identity.
However, the school district claims that it is trying to accommodate all students with this policy and not alienate anyone:
“It’s a diverse community,” said Dennis Carlson, the superintendent of the school district. “And what we’re trying to do, what I’m trying to do as a superintendent, is walk down the middle of the road.”
Unfortunately for Justin Aaberg and the six other students who attended schools in the Anoka-Hennepin district, it seems that “walking down the middle of the road” was not supportive or protective enough.
According to Aaberg’s mother, he came to her one day and said: “Mom, a kid at school says I’m going to go to hell because I’m gay.” For anyone, that’s pretty tough to hear from a peer; for a high schooler who is already uncomfortable in his or her skin, it can be devastating, and under the school’s policy, there is nothing the teachers can do to protect these students.
The school district is trying to achieve neutrality in their schools. However, Sam Wolfe, the Southern Poverty Law Center attorney who is handling this case, claims that the school’s policy is more of a “gag policy” than a neutrality policy.
“The gag policy singles out LGBT students by denying them and them alone any affirmation of their identity,” Wolfe wrote in a letter to Carlson. He also said that the neutrality police precludes “any meaningful classroom discussion about history, literature, current events or any other relevant lessons involving LGBT people.”
As the investigation continues, many are voicing their concern that the policy is difficult to understand or implement. Julie Blah is the president of the district’s teachers’ union and she shares this view.
“Neutrality is tricky to understand,” Blaha said. “We have to clarify – is neutrality silence? Is neutrality balance? It neutrally purely factorial? Is neutrality showing both sides? When people say they like neutrality I think what they’re saying is they like the idea of fairness. And I think we all agree with that, the idea that everyone feels safe, everyone feels welcome in our classrooms; however, when you look at the policy, I’m not sure that’s what the policy is saying. And that’s the problem, we’re not sure what exactly this policy says.”
In my opinion, this school district should follow California’s example and start supporting their GLBT students so these students do not feel so secluded and abandoned. What do you think?
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