“I heard people calling other people or things “gay” all the time,” Justin Anderson told reporters. “People may not have been directing it towards me, specifically, but they still meant me, even if they didn’t know it.”
“Hearing people speak negatively about me every day with no intervention [from teachers or other staff] tore away at my self-esteem,” Anderson said. “I felt like I couldn’t tell anyone my story.”
Through tears, the mother of one of the Anoka-Hennepin students who committed suicide last year due to intense bullying attacked the district for betraying her and her husband’s trust. Fighting back tears, Tammy Aaberg told reporters “The very people we entrust the care of our children to allowed my son to suffer in silence.”
As TheColu.mn has reported, many teachers have complained that they felt constrained by the district’s Curriculum Policy on Sexual Orientation, and some feared for their jobs if they intervened in a case of anti-LGBT bullying. Until the start of this school year, teachers’ union President Julie Blaha told TheColu.mn, Anoka-Hennepin teachers had not received training from district officials on the curriculum policy, adopted in 2009. Prior to 2009, the school district had policies in place prohibiting staff from portraying homosexuality in a positive light.
Following the press conference, district spokesperson Mary Olson acknowledged to reporters and community members that the policy was targeted at limiting discussion of homosexuality, instead of all sexualities. When a community member approached Olson and asked what information a teacher was allowed to provide if one of their students called homosexuality “a choice,” Olson responded by calling it “a really tough question…We are working with teachers to develop some guidelines” for that kind of situation.
Following media inquiries and community pressure earlier this month, district administrators have issued what they call “clarifications” to the policy, instructing staff to immediately put a stop to any anti-LGBT bullying they witness. School administrators and teachers were shown or given copies of a Powerpoint presentation highlighting “harassing terms” and the impact of bullying on LGBTA students or students who are perceived to be LGBTA
In testimony given to a school board meeting following the press conference, GET spokesperson Michael McGee criticized the limited training received by staff members, as documented by TheColu.mn last week. “Being handed a powerpoint does not constitute training,” he told the board.
Like many schools in Minnesota, the district is facing a severe budget shortfall and relies on a special property tax re-approved by voters in 2009 to cover the gap. Some observers suggest the school board is resisting further changes for fear of damaging their credibility with the large numbers of conservative voters living in the district, many of whom do not have children in the schools. The property tax levy comes up for renewal in 2011.
“Our first choice would be to work collaboratively with the district,” to solve this problem, GET’s McGee said at the press conference.
GET spokesperson Robin Mavis also read out a statement from Senator Al Franken and GLSEN.
“We are failing our students,” the statement read. “Anoka-Hennepin School District has witnessed too many tragedies this year. We need to do more to protect our students from bullying; we need to tackle this problem and the local, state, and federal level…it’s time we extended equal rights to LGBT students.”