The Minneapolis Public School District recently decided to pilot a new anti-bullying curriculum guide called “Welcoming Schools” and was looking for schools that wanted to implement it.
Bob Brancale, principal of Hale Community School in South Minneapolis, had been receiving a number of student behavior referrals from teachers that involved the use of gay slurs. As he wrote Hale’s School Improvement Plan, he identified a need for an anti-bullying program that was inclusive of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender issues (GLBT). (Hale’s sister school, Field, is not part of the pilot program.)
Associate Superintendent Marianne Norris said that “Welcoming Schools” and Hale School seemed like a good fit. She said the district is always looking for successful new programs that they can add to the “tool bag” that schools use when a need arises.
Lesley Chaudhry, a parent with a child who attends Hale, spoke up at an
informational meeting about the curriculum at Hale last Thursday night,
and said she isn’t happy about the way the new program is being
introduced. Chaudhry said that parents weren’t given sufficient notice
or input into the “Welcoming Schools” curriculum selection. When she
learned that the program was developed by the Human Rights Campaign, a
gay rights lobbying group, she said “that just raised big flags for me.”
Many others in the school community spoke in support of the program at the meeting, some telling personal stories illustrating the need for this type of curriculum.
Chaudhry, a Muslim, strongly believes that children should be taught to be polite and to treat people of all backgrounds and family situations with respect. In fact, her child has been a recipient of harassment because of religious affiliation. But she and some other parents feel that “Welcoming Schools” places an overemphasis on GLBT issues and she is suspicious of educational programs developed by special interest groups.
Chaudhry also believes that when schools teach something at odds with what’s being taught at home, children are conflicted and the parents’ role is undermined. She said she doesn’t go to the school to teach about her religion or its holidays because she believes that “it’s really important for kids to have that knowledge that what their parents are telling them at home is true.”
Jessi Tebben, coordinator of Out4Good, the Minneapolis Public School program whose mission includes “creating safe and supportive schools” for GLBT students, families and staff, is responsible for implementing the “Welcoming Schools” pilot at Hale, Jefferson and another as yet unnamed school. Many parents welcome this type of program and in fact have asked for an anti-bullying curriculum that is inclusive of GLBT issues for some time, Tebben said.
Norris says that schools need to teach about respect for GLBT families and staff. “I still think we have one group that it’s OK to discriminate against in our country and that’s many of our GLBT people.”
“Out4Good has been around since 1996,” Tebben said. The district has had “policies with respect to sexual orientation and gender since 1992,”
and she wants it known that the inclusion of GLBT issues is part of the educational standards of the district.
The “Welcoming Schools” curriculum guide is expected to begin being used by teachers “toward the end of this school year or next fall,” said Tebben. She said the program has an “opt out” option for parents who don’t want their child to participate.
Community members are expected to speak about the issue during the Public Comments forum before the Minneapolis School Board meeting tonight at 5:30 p.m. Meetings are held in the third floor Assembly Room at the Educational Services Center, 807 N.E. Broadway, Minneapolis.