Monday, February 13, 2012

AHEM Statement to the School Board on the Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy

Chair Heidemann, Members of the Board, Superintendent Carlson:  My name is Julie Blaha. I am the president of Anoka Hennepin Education Minnesota and I’m here to present our organization’s position on the proposed policy.

AHEM’s governing body voted last Monday to support the adoption of the Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy with some small clarifications. We are glad to see the Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy go.  While we maintain that a replacement policy is not essential, this new policy seems to fit with what we know works for students.

For changes, we suggest:

  • In the fourth paragraph, adding a word so it reads “Teachers, administrators, and educational support staff…” 
  • In the fifth paragraph, substitute the word “relevant” for the phrase “of significance.”
  • Modify the final paragraph to make it clear that the terms may apply to students’ families, not just students.  That would make categories like “veteran” and “family leave” status more logical.  In that same paragraph, changing “marital status” to “family status” and “public assistance” to “economic status” would make those categories more parallel to the others.

We appreciated the chance to meet with board members Heidemann, Sullivan, and Wenzel last Thursday to discuss how we understand this policy.  We are on the same page on a number of ideas:

  • We were glad we agree that the statement about following district approved policy is not meant to hinder innovation or creativity in our lessons.
  • We understand that the board still values the importance of discussing controversial topics to build students’ ability to understand, analyze, and respect multiple viewpoints. 
  • If there is concern about how a teacher deals with an issue in their classroom, we understand that it will be handled on a case by case basis at the building level, not with time-consuming procedures and paperwork at the district level.
  • We appreciated hearing that board members respect our professional judgment when it comes to determining which topics we include in our instruction.

The question now is what effect will this policy have?

This could be just another 228 words buried under 154 other policies that govern what happens in our schools. 

Or it could be the first paragraphs of a new chapter in our district. One where everyone feels more safe and welcome at school.  A chapter where it is clear that every student, staff member, and family is valued for who they are. One full of rigorous conversations between professionals about how to improve our school climate.   We look forward to writing this chapter with you.

We urge you to approve the Respectful Learning Environment Curriculum Policy and invite you to meet with teachers regularly to ensure a successful implementation.

Thank you.