The Big Story Blog

Timeline: Anoka-Hennepin schools and sexual orientation

Posted at 11:06 AM on December 8, 2011 by Paul Tosto
Filed under: Education

MPR News reporter Elizabeth Dunbar put this timeline together last summer on the Anoka-Hennepin schools and policies involving sexual orientation of students.

1980s: The Anoka-Hennepin School District begins a series of discussions about a new AIDS education curriculum.

1991: The Anoka-Hennepin School Board orders teachers to emphasize sexual abstinence and marriage and monogamy as part of the new AIDS education curriculum.

Summer 1995:
The Anoka-Hennepin School Board votes to adopt recommendations for health curriculum as submitted by a health curriculum committee. They also accepted language from a minority report saying homosexuality would not be taught as a "normal, valid lifestyle" in the schools.

November 1998: A transgendered music teacher is hired in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

February 1999: The transgendered music teacher resigns after a parents group and clergy raised concerns about her hiring.

May 2008: The mother of a high school student in the Anoka-Hennepin School District files a complaint with the Minnesota Department of Human Rights, alleging that two teachers had harassed her son because they thought he was gay.

Feb. 9, 2009: The Anoka-Hennepin School Board adopts a new sexual orientation curriculum policy to get rid of the controversial board directive from 1995. The new policy says sexual orientation topics aren't a part of the curriculum and if the subject comes up in class teachers should take a neutral stance.

Aug. 13, 2009: The Anoka-Hennepin School District pays $25,000 to settle a case with a former student who claimed two teachers harassed him because they thought he was gay.

September 2009: Two teachers accused of harassing a student they thought was gay are placed on leave.

September 2010: MPR News reports seven students in the Anoka-Hennepin School District committed suicide in the last year. Some of them were gay, and parents and friends said bullying played a role.

Oct. 25, 2010: The Anoka-Hennepin School Board votes to clarify the school district's bullying and harassment policies but leaves the sexual orientation curriculum policy untouched. Gay rights groups had asked the district to remove the part of the policy dealing with neutrality.

November 2010: The U.S. Justice Department notifies the school district about its investigation into a harassment complaint involving "peer-on-peer harassment based on not conforming to gender stereotypes."

December 2010: Superintendent Dennis Carlson sends a voicemail to teachers saying the district determined none of the recent suicides were connected to bullying or harassment.

Jan. 31, 2011: Two lesbian students walk together as part of Snow Days royalty court at Champlin Park High School after the Southern Poverty Law Center and National Center for Lesbian Rights sued to make district officials change a new rule saying court members would walk in individually or accompanied by a parent or favorite teacher rather than as couples.

May 24, 2011: The Southern Poverty Law Center and National Center for Lesbian Rights threaten to file a lawsuit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District for allegedly failing to adequately protect gay students. In a letter, the groups also ask the district to get rid of the sexual orientation curriculum policy, calling it a "gag policy."

June 2, 2011: Anoka-Hennepin district officials meet with representatives from the U.S. Justice Department as part of an investigation of a harassment complaint.

June 8, 2011: In an op-ed piece for MPR News, Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dennis Carlson defends the district's policy.

June 14, 2011: School district officials and representatives from the Southern Poverty Law Center meet about the policy. The two sides don't reach an agreement but agree to keep talking.

June 28, 2011: The conservative Alliance Defense Fund sends a letter to the district urging officials to keep the sexual orientation curriculum policy.

July, 11, 2011: Tammy Aaberg, whose teen son committed suicide in 2010, presents the Anoka-Hennepin School Board with an online petition containing 12,000 signatures in support of repealing the district's sexual orientation curriculum policy. Justin Aaberg had been bullied for being gay.

July 20, 2011: The Anoka-Hennepin school district confirms it's being investigated by the U.S. Justice Department and Education Department Office of Civil Rights. The district also announces it is working on improved training for staff to support gay students.

July 21, 2011: The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights announce a lawsuit against Anoka-Hennepin filed on behalf of five students who allege harassment based on their real or perceived sexual orientation.


About Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto

Paul Tosto writes the Big Story Blog for MPR News. He joined the newsroom in 2008 after more than 20 years reporting on education, politics and the economy for news wires and newspapers across the country.