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Anti-bullying curriculum draws criticism and support (video)

Despite opposition from some parents, Minneapolis schools are moving ahead with a pilot curriculum in three elementary schools to fight bullying by focusing on diversity, gender stereotyping and name-calling. By Steve Date

Despite opposition from some parents, Minneapolis schools are moving ahead with a pilot curriculum in three elementary schools to fight bullying by focusing on diversity, gender stereotyping and name-calling.

Parents opposed to the curriculum — developed by Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights lobby — say it places too much emphasis on learning about gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender families. And, they argue, the program is weak on teaching about racial and religious diversity and that it undermines parental authority by causing confusion in children. 

They asked Superintendent Bill Green and the school board to withdraw the curriculum at Hale Community School, Jefferson Community School and one other school that has yet to be selected.

But in the school district’s newsletter released this morning, Green endorsed the curriculum, saying “it’s absolutely essential to create an environment that is respectful of all people regardless of any differences known or implied.”

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School board members listened to parents’ views on the “Welcoming Schools” anti-bullying curriculum during a forum preceding its board meeting March 11.

Hale parent Arbuc Flomo read a written statement by a group opposed to the curriculum. Several parents of Hale students attending other Minneapolis schools spoke in favor of the curriculum.

Hale Principal Bob Brancale said that based on the reports he’s received about students’ use of anti-gay language, there is a need for an anti-bullying program that includes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) issues. He said that teachers had also expressed concerns to him about this behavior, but sometimes took care of the incidents in class without writing a formal behavior referral to his office.

The district was looking for schools to pilot the anti-bullying curriculum that includes teaching about GLBT families. Brancale said he believed the curriculum could address his school’s needs, and offered to pilot the program at Hale.

Brancale said most of his teachers support the curriculum. “About 19 out of our 23 classroom teachers support it and most have expressed interest in being trained in the use of the pilot curriculum,” he said.

Brancale emphasized that Hale has a “very low suspension rate — less than 1 percent.” Of about 240 behavior referrals this school year, 60 were for bullying. About half of those involved some form of gay slurs. Brancale and the dissenting parents disagree on the significance of the percentage of referrals involving gay slurs.

Parents who expressed support for the curriculum said such a program has been needed for some time. “We need an anti-bullying curriculum and we need one that specifically includes the GLBT community,” Hale parent Sylvia Crannell told the school board last week.

Tim Cadott, principal of Burroughs School whose two sons attend Minneapolis schools, also spoke to the board. “My boys should not have to go anywhere in Minneapolis public schools and hear ‘that’s so gay’ or ‘faggot’ or words like that, because that’s my family.” Turning to the audience, he added: “I’ve taken care of your children for 27 years, you have to take care of mine, now. They’re in your hands.”

When asked abut her response to the meeting, Chair Lydia Lee said in an email that board members “did listen intently” to the comments at the session. “The focus and purpose of using the ‘Welcoming Schools’ curriculum is for students to understand the impact on children of bullying and name-calling,” Lee wrote. “It is not a means for teachers to advocate for or object to any particular family structures.

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“It is the intent of the Minneapolis Public Schools that children learn to accept diversity in their midst in the many different ways in which it can appear,” she said. “How this takes place is an administrative decision. While the Board of Education is kept apprised of curricular matters, its members do not make curriculum decisions.”

Brancale said he’s listening to parents on both sides of the issue and is looking for other anti-bullying programs that include GLBT issues. So far he hasn’t found any, he said, that sufficiently address the issues.

Because of the amount of time needed for teacher training, Brancale said, he isn’t sure if the program will begin late this spring or next fall.