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Neutrality Policy and the Wall of Silence
February 3, 2012 8:12 AM   Subscribe

In Anoka, Minnesota, nearly ten students have committed suicide in the past year and a half. Anoka is part of the congressional district of Congresswoman Michele Bachman, and it had a policy of neutrality with regards to GLBTQ discussions in its public schools that "The Rolling Stone" reports as having now been replaced.

The policy implemented by the school board was supported by members of the Parents Action League, whose mission includes the statement, "To motivate and equip citizens with current and accurate information about issues that impact the family and could undermine the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing and education of their own children."

The policy was enacted without informing parents or being written in any district handbooks. School employees, and it turned out the school board itself, were confused about how to handle the policy, resulting in a wall of silence on anything related to sexual orientation, even from teachers who identified as GLBTQ in their personal lives. In the end, it took the deaths of multiple teens --- four who identified as GLBTQ --- a filed law suit from the Southern Poverty Law Center, and backlash from parents and gay rights organizations for the policy to be revisited.

The suicides have been previously discussed on Metafilter.

One article explores why Michele Bachmann's anti-gay allies contributed to the culture of silence and bullying in her congressional district. Another features the mother of one of the deceased students, who has since opened her home to area GLBTQ students.

While all this was going on, the Minnesota state government was battling itself on an anti-bullying bill, having been one of three states yet to pass such a measure.

The suicides have been previously discussed on Metafilter.
posted by zizzle (53 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Timeline: The Anoka-Hennepin School District's experience with sexual orientation issues.
posted by rtha at 8:26 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I wonder how many kids we're going to neglect, abuse and allow to be hounded to death just so that adults aren't made to feel uncomfortable. Nine kids in a year and a half. And almost more:
"[...] in mid-December, her nine-year-old son was hospitalized for suicidal tendencies; he'd tried to drown himself in the bathtub, wanting to see his big brother again."
Neutrality my ass; silence is consent, and everyone who was a party this knows it. "Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." - Paulo Freire
posted by mhoye at 8:30 AM on February 3, 2012 [30 favorites]


I am so overwhelmed with even more intense loathing than usual for Michele Bachmann that I might actually choke on it. Jesus fucking christ, she is a vile, poisonous monster.

I am literally clinging to this hate with all I have in me solely so I don't fucking lose it and bawl rageily for the rest of my life over those poor goddamn kids.
posted by elizardbits at 8:31 AM on February 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


Speaking from direct, personal experience... Minnesota in the mid-80s to mid-90s was the land of Mondale and Humphrey--with a handful of extremist conservatives. It was a place dominated by lilly white people and snowy landscapes. The population had a penchant for doing good deeds. One of them was attracting people of different cultures who had serious needs. First, the Hmong, then Korean adoptions, then South Asians, then Somalies. After that, the floodgates opened and the original inhabitants went in the opposite direction--right in the direction of Jesse Ventura, Norm Coleman and Michelle Bachmann. Now, it's a different place full of reactionary, religious, suspicious people who want a return of the good old days. I'm glad we moved before it really got bad.
posted by Sparkticus at 8:31 AM on February 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


I'd just finished reading the Rolling Stone article when I saw this post.

It's terrifying to see how confused the grownups are in this situation, and how they have allowed themselves to be bullied by the evangelical faction. I know some people bristle at comparisons between gay rights and the 20th century civil rights movement, but isn't this whole problem akin to trying to integrate schools? Except in these cases, the kids are already IN the schools, and it's actually about deciding to acknowledge whether they exist.
posted by hermitosis at 8:32 AM on February 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


I would like to see Bachmann treat this as seriously as she would if these kids had been killed by Muslims or illegal immigrants.
posted by tyllwin at 8:39 AM on February 3, 2012 [8 favorites]


Nearly ten???....so like what nine and a half?
posted by Confess, Fletch at 8:39 AM on February 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Further insight in to the effects of this policy are reported by bullied students from Anoka, who appeared on Anderson Cooper's anti-bullying TV special.
posted by entropone at 8:40 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Where are the right-to-lifers now? I guess once you're out of the womb you're on your own.
posted by kinnakeet at 8:41 AM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


People forget that young bullies grow up to become big bullies -- who then take the reigns of power and work to protect their own.
posted by Avenger at 8:42 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Heart, hurting.
posted by whimsicalnymph at 8:45 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sparktius, I grew up there in that time and I remember all the new faces coming into the state. And I remember them all just sort of...joining in the community. *shrug* It really was like you say.

But then I moved away. I remember hearing a new tone to things when the current wave of immigrants was from Somalia. Folks were first surprised, then irritated, when the Somalis just sort of hunkered down instead of trying to get jobs, learn English, and otherwise join in. I mean, there are Hmong police and city councilmen and teachers: they showed up, they started businesses and joined schools & churches, and everyone made room at the table. But it seems like that didnt happen with the Somalis.

I have always been curious what else changed around this time, and what the root cause is.

Please don't accuse me & mine of racism, I am simply telling you what I heard at the time. It confounds me, too.
posted by wenestvedt at 8:45 AM on February 3, 2012


Now, it's a different place full of reactionary, religious, suspicious people who want a return of the good old days. I'm glad we moved before it really got bad.

Granted it's impossible to refute a generalization, but Ima go ahead and argue that point. Bachmann has her seat largely because of agressive redistricting that basically cordoned off a huge swath of metro-area wealthy conservatives into her domain. The rest of the metro area and most of the state does not feel as they do.

From talking to staff members of the Anoka school district, I would say that most of the ones that care just outright ignore the embarrassing policy. It's not like there is any possibility of official retribution for accepting a gay kid as they are.
posted by Think_Long at 8:45 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I would support any exchange student program that got those bullied kids the hell out of Anoka. I'd take one of them into my own home if I could, right now.

It's sickening to me that those 9 (10?) kids felt compelled to take their lives because the "adults" around them were so messed up themselves they couldn't see it was the sadistic bullies they needed to be worrying about, not their kids' sexual orientation.
posted by misha at 8:51 AM on February 3, 2012


Where are the right-to-lifers now? I guess once you're out of the womb you're on your own.

While I certainly hope that the exposure tragedy like this gets promotes people to think outside of their limited experience and comfort zones and hopefully start to see and respect and empathize with the perspective of gay youth, you won't get a blink out of the people who propose and support these policies in the first place. They will just say that it was the intrinsic wrongness of being gay that led to these suicides and that it is the fault of secular liberalism for fostering gayness in society instead of properly suppressing and pathologizing it like in the good old days when we still had values.

Now, it's a different place full of reactionary, religious, suspicious people who want a return of the good old days. I'm glad we moved before it really got bad.

While the evangelical conservative movement has gained political ground over the last decades the political landscape was hardly as cut and dried as you paint it in the Humphrey era nor is it now. I'm glad I've stayed here to keep fighting.
posted by nanojath at 8:56 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Has bullying become infinitely worse in the seven years since I was in high school? I do not want to pile on the victims, or in any way support this homophobic idiocy, I am just completely confused by the change in response to bullying.
posted by karmiolz at 8:57 AM on February 3, 2012


Confess, Fletch: Nearly ten???....so like what nine and a half?

mhoye quoted the section from the RS article that talked about the "nearly tenth" suicide, the younger brother of a dead teen who missed his older brother.


karmiolz: Has bullying become infinitely worse in the seven years since I was in high school? I do not want to pile on the victims, or in any way support this homophobic idiocy, I am just completely confused by the change in response to bullying.

Did anyone tell you "Get out of this town, fag," or pee on you? Did people call you a "fat dyke," to which the Principal suggested a snappy comeback for the next round of verbal assaults?

When bullying isn't stopped by peers, teachers, or even the principal, it's as good as telling kids "it's fine to bully the kids who aren't like you," and kids are brutally creative.
posted by filthy light thief at 9:05 AM on February 3, 2012 [6 favorites]


Speaking from direct, personal experience... Minnesota in the mid-80s to mid-90s was the land of Mondale and Humphrey--with a handful of extremist conservatives. It was a place dominated by lilly white people and snowy landscapes. The population had a penchant for doing good deeds. One of them was attracting people of different cultures who had serious needs. First, the Hmong, then Korean adoptions, then South Asians, then Somalis.

It is indeed very strange how Minnesota was a paradise when I first moved here and has turned into the land of fundie assholes. (I assume it wasn't just my arrival...)

I don't actually think that it's the arrival of refugees, though, since the refugee populations are pretty heavily concentrated in the Twin Cities, which remain pretty liberal. And even fairly stupid residents can see how much of an economic boost we've gotten from Hmong and Somali businesses. Even places like Austin, where there is a lot of tension over Mexican immigrant workers and a certain amount of traction for actual live neo-nazis (who are thuggish and stupid beyond belief) aren't full of this Christian Right poison. The Christian Right uses racism and hatred of immigrants, but it's a separate thing.

Also, Minnesota does have a history of Christian Right evil - we were a profoundly anti-Semitic state up until the Second World War, and that stuff persists.

I actually think that it's the fact that recently queer folks are in many places have become able to live without fear and shame. That really frosts the Christian Right's goat, especially when we seem to have things they might want, like more sex or better haircuts. And especially when ol' Wide Stance and the various Catholic priests get outed - all that rage and shame has to go somewhere. So of course, they pick on kids, because kids can't pack up and move and have very little political power.

I mean, these are sick people who aren't introspective at all. They just take pleasure in hatred and bullying because they don't have the self-reflection skills to ask themselves why it's so satisfying and feels so natural to be cruel.

It's so sad for those poor, poor kids. I wonder if some group of queer folks could, like, show up and flyer the school or something - just being visibly queer and numerous, especially if younger folks could go.

The elements of Facebook/modern bullying are creepy.

On a "teens today" note, I have to wonder if the anti-bullying curriculum hasn't just allowed bullies to refine their techniques - I got bullied pretty extensively, but no one was actually literally telling me to kill myself, it just wasn't in the repertoire. Telling people not to bully while not changing the material circumstances of the bullying seems pretty useless to me.
posted by Frowner at 9:08 AM on February 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Has bullying become infinitely worse in the seven years since I was in high school?

Well, one of the consequences of homosexuality becoming an entirely mainstream political issue is that kids are exposed to a lot more facts, myths, and opinions about it, often from people who seem perfectly credible or respectable. Since it's something that is discussed and debated angrily and openly on TV and in church and in the home, I'm sure kids today feel way more comfortable leaping into the fray.
posted by hermitosis at 9:09 AM on February 3, 2012


Karmlolz,

Not sure there really has been a change among kids response to bullying. If you mean responding by committing suicide, I think there might be other things going on, other than a chance-- such as:

- it has been made newsworthy if gay teens are bullied, so we hear more about it.

- suicide was often not reported in the news when I was growing up anyway. (Legacy of the belief that those who committed suicide were damned, perhaps? Fear that it might cause other kids to contemplate the same behavior?)

- when kids committed suicide, discussing whether they were gay was unlikely to be done when being gay was even less tolerated than it is now.
posted by chapps at 9:11 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I meant not in just this instance, bullying has suddenly become an issue. It has always existed, it will always exist. It's part of growing up, people are cruel. Is it really just the highlighting of an issue that wasn't reported before, or has the social structure of youth drastically changed?
posted by karmiolz at 9:14 AM on February 3, 2012


I don't know if my perception is correct; I am a city-dweller, and as a substitute in the suburbs, I saw more cruelty among the white kids. But in the city schools, anyway, there have been more anti-bullying efforts, ones that go deeper than just posters in the hallways. And there have been more GSA clubs than ever (the number was zero up until the last 10-20 years). It may be a figure of speech to call bullying and suicide "epidemic," but it is a apt one in some school districts, apparently.
posted by kozad at 9:14 AM on February 3, 2012


It's part of growing up, people are cruel. Is it really just the highlighting of an issue that wasn't reported before, or has the social structure of youth drastically changed?

I'm going to go out on a limb here and say what's changed is tolerance to bullying.

I was bullied in elementary and middle schools. In front of teachers and other school personnel. I would tell my mom. She would tell the school. NOTHING WOULD HAPPEN. Because even in the 80s and early 90s, it was "kids will be kids," and it was expected you just grew out of it.

Now we know that bullying CAN lead to tragedies. And pressure has been put on school's to adequately respond to it --- regardless of the reasons behind it.

We also better understand the motives of bullying now, so there are more programs in place to help those who BULLY.

Making something public and openly discussing it does seem to get things done. My thought is, it just wasn't in the public's eye because it was normal, sad as it is to say.
posted by zizzle at 9:18 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


But it seems like that didnt happen with the Somalis.

I don't feel that this is true at all. I think that some Somali folks have had a hard time being accepted because of anti-black racism and because of bias against Muslims. But I live in a neighborhood with lots of Somali people and there are tons of Somali businesses - some serving mostly Somalis, some more general. There are also a number of Somali hires at my job, and of course there are tons of cab drivers. A pre-dental program around here has lots of Somali girls in it too, so I expect a wave of Somali dentists and hygienists in six or seven years.

Two other things to consider: while many Hmong people came here after years in refugee camps (which must have been incredibly hard and stressful), many Somali people basically came here right after being soldiers or being caught up in incredibly violent events. I lived in a building with a man who was kind of an anomaly because he had been able to rescue all his children and his wife and bring them to the US. So many, many people lost their families in horrible, recent circumstances.

Second, Somali folks have to deal with the ways in which African-Americans are treated and stereotyped, plus differences between Somali culture and African-American cultures. Somali folks are of course also African-Americans because they're of African descent and are now Americans, but they're in a different situation than folks who have been in the US for generations and are from a really different background. What I observe is that it seems to be hard to figure out how to be American of African descent when there's so much anti-black racism, there are these really powerful narratives and stereotypes about the African-American experience, and there's so much mainstream culture that is sort of a rip-off/fusion of African-American cultural production. Where, for example, white folks simultaneously love Beyonce and hold all kinds of awful stereotypes in their heads about black women.

Not that Hmong folks had a cakewalk coming here by any means. But it was different, I think.

(I just want to say also that Minnesota was never a lily-white state; there have always been lots of Native people here.)
posted by Frowner at 9:19 AM on February 3, 2012 [10 favorites]


I found the pro–gayhate policy bad, though not outside my understanding or experience. But this:

Justin shrugged and smiled, then retreated to his room. It had been a hard day: the annual "Day of Truth" had been held at school, an evangelical event then-sponsored by the anti-gay ministry Exodus International, whose mission is to usher gays back to wholeness and "victory in Christ" by converting them to heterosexuality. Day of Truth has been a font of controversy that has bounced in and out of the courts; its legality was affirmed last March, when a federal appeals court ruled that two Naperville, Illinois, high school students' Day of Truth T-shirts reading BE HAPPY, NOT GAY were protected by their First Amendment rights. (However, the event, now sponsored by Focus on the Family, has been renamed "Day of Dialogue.") Local churches had been touting the program, and students had obediently shown up at Anoka High School wearing day of truth T-shirts, preaching in the halls about the sin of homosexuality. Justin wanted to brush them off, but was troubled by their proselytizing. Secretly, he had begun to worry that maybe he was an abomination, like the Bible said.

What the fuck America? Your children are taught not only to hate, but encouraged hate other children and advertise that hate in school? This is abuse of all the children involved.

The school district insists it has been portrayed unfairly.

LGBT people think they've portrayed unfairly too, but reality has adopted a "neutrality" policy on the issue of christian bigotry, and is unable to publicly promote your position.
posted by Jehan at 9:28 AM on February 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


"Based on all the information we've been able to gather," read a statement from the superintendent's office, "none of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying or harassment."

How could anyone write this and not throw up afterward?

Also, I want someone to come in and tell them it's OK to be Takei.
posted by dhens at 9:28 AM on February 3, 2012 [4 favorites]


What the fuck America? Your children are taught not only to hate, but encouraged hate other children and advertise that hate in school? This is abuse of all the children involved.

Yeah. As soon as I read that my first thought was "how the fuck was that not immediately barred from happening as the school, as an agent for the state, sanctioning a religion?"

Was there just nobody around to call the ACLU and have them sue the district?

If I'm going to stay in this country I think I'm going to become a card carrying member of the ACLU.
posted by Talez at 9:35 AM on February 3, 2012


I read this last night...broke down in tears on the bus.
posted by epersonae at 9:43 AM on February 3, 2012


Jesse Ventura, Norm Coleman and Michelle Bachmann

Bit of a nitpick: Mr. Ventura can be criticized for a variety of things, but I wouldn't lump him in with the other two in this trio.
posted by gimonca at 9:49 AM on February 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


I don't get the teachers' inaction. It's a public school district, so the teachers are in a union and are fairly safe from being fired. Can someone comment?
posted by Currer Belfry at 9:54 AM on February 3, 2012


Talez The key is that they don't view it a sanctioning a religion, they view homosexuality as an obvious moral indecency regardless of religion. How do they know it is a moral flaw, because of the Bible. It's this wondrous cognitive dissonance that is inherit in religious thought.
posted by karmiolz at 9:55 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I don't know...Minnesota has gotten more conservative, and it's hard to figure out why. I moved here after college in part because of the super liberal reputation of the state. I think sometimes that the gains social conservatives have made in the upper Midwest have been affected by the alliance of the Catholic Church with the evangelicals. When I was growing up, Catholics were often Kennedy style Democrats, with peace and justice cred. The liberal priests have been all but chased out of the church, however, both as a matter of policy from Pope John Paul II onwards, and by the civil rights era priests retiring. When I was growing up, too, evangelicals thought Catholics weren't even Christians. Now they walk hand in hand on the culture wars front.

However, Anoka is still a conservative outlier. And Bachman's district has been gerrymandered like crazy.

I don't think the Somalis hold themselves apart. The Somali individuals I know are friendly, always smiling, and hard workers. My mom was visiting, and was put off by the hajib, and felt the Somali girls were repressed. I asked her if she thought the Amish were equally repressed, since they too wore religious clothing, and after all didn't educate their girls nearly to the extent the Somali communities do. She had to admit it was just reflexive anti-Muslim sentiment, since the Amish in the upper Midwest are thought of pretty positively.
posted by Malla at 9:59 AM on February 3, 2012


Previous comment aside, I simply don't understand how Minnesota is not in the lead on gay rights. It never even seems to get traction here. Strange. Gay marriage in Iowa, yay bullying in supposedly sophisticated Minnesota.
posted by Malla at 10:04 AM on February 3, 2012


Has bullying become infinitely worse in the seven years since I was in high school?

Yes. Probably. What once could have escape spaces, like community sports, activities, clubs, groups and such, now is covered by the totalizing blanket of exposure which is the internet. For older people, the internet is a novelty, or, at most, a good communications tool. It is "inside" the lives of young people now. From very young ages now, more and more people have mobile phones (direct internet access tools), which stream the world of the social web directly to the hands of a person. And the life of the individual is now just another "feed" to their peers. To be judged, critiqued, and spit out, when there is no more excitement, or power to be gained from trashing the person.

We like to think that the internet is primarily a 'globalizing' thing (where bullied people of all stripes might connect and create solidarity). But; for users, trained from birth, not from the teens, or twenties, or later, when we had already shaped identities, and self-worth, like the older among us, the reality is that most of the "web-applications" are tools that connect us with local things. Facebook uses "shared school/job email addresses" to place people in a shared network, and same with many more of the other web tools, yes, they connect us to the world, but they also connect us to the local, and in doing so, connect 'the local' with us. No matter how hateful or ignorant the local is. This NewYorker piece really clarifies the totalizing nature of modern bullying well (weakness, depression and statements of powerlessness are like chum to the waters of ladder climbing bullying activities; it isn't just gay males facing this, young girls, Indigenous Canadian youth, so many more, everyone is dealing with a new world of exposure and vulnerability):

But the more that acceptance wins—and it is winning—the more angry obstructionism we’ll see from people who still can’t accept it. Clearly, tolerance has hit a few snags, some more serious than others. According to some data, hate crimes targeting gays have increased in the past two years. Certain opponents of same-sex marriage feel emboldened to unleash harsh rhetoric. On October 3rd, Boyd K. Packer, who, at eighty-six, is the second-highest leader in the Mormon Church, proclaimed, “Some suppose that they were born preset and cannot overcome what they feel are inborn tendencies toward the impure and unnatural.” (Beware the hatred-licensing power of words like “impure” and “unnatural.”) And the Senate still hasn’t repealed the Don’t Ask Don’t Tell law, despite a ruling in September by a federal judge, Virginia A. Phillips, declaring it unconstitutional, and her injunction last week ordering the military to stop enforcing it. (The Obama Administration chose to appeal last week’s decision, preferring to have Congress, not the courts, rescind the law.)

But one snag has nothing to do with homosexuality itself, and that is the comprehensive undermining of privacy. This is the trap into which Clementi, and perhaps some of the other teen-age suicides, fell. Clementi lived in a world where filming your roommate in his most intimate moments and broadcasting the results without his knowledge represents a difference in degree, if not in kind, from a lot of online behavior. The roommate does seem to have been motivated in part by the fact that Clementi was gay. (He tweeted that he had “turned on my Webcam. I saw him making out with a dude. Yay.”) But what he did, with the help of a female freshman friend, would not have been any more defensible if he had been broadcasting Clementi in an intimate moment with a girl.

The problem is a culture of exposure that is far more advanced than any efforts to combat online cruelty. Bullying feeds on weakness, anger, and, lately, the systematic undervaluing of privacy. (Paladino, by the way, has had his own problems with boundaries. He has admitted to forwarding e-mails depicting bestiality and recounting racist jokes that some people find as disgusting as he finds gay-pride parades.) Young people discovering their identity and their desires need a zone of privacy where they can be who they are, perhaps in the company of another human being, without feeling that somebody else might be tweeting it, filming it, or blogging about it, or that maybe they themselves ought to be—there’s such a thing as violating your own privacy, too. The unobserved life is so totally worth living.
posted by infinite intimation at 10:06 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


I urge anyone interested in this, who may be wondering if the school district is getting a bad rap or that their handling of gender issues has been misrepresented, to read the district's School Board meeting reports, and look over the school policies, because I've been going through them and they are just totally failing the kids there, in my opinion.

First off, I looked at the School Board Meetings records from their own district website for a couple months before the news reported on the suicides until a the month after that voicemail where the district superintendant said that they had looked into the suicides and saw no evidence of bullying.

Here's what the superintendant had to say after that voicemail: "People are trying to simplify things and they're trying to make some sense of it, and it's an extraordinarily hard thing to make sense of," Carlson said. "But to jump to simple conclusions, I think, is a real mistake. And to blame us for those simple conclusions is something that is very hurtful to our staff when we're working so hard to keep kids alive."

Okay, so what were they actually doing to help kids?

According to the School Board reports, several concerned citizens came to their meetings specifically to address the suicides, LGBT students and bullying:
October 25, 2010

Tammy Aaberg, Justin Anderson and Dale Schuster addressed the board about their concerns with the district’s Sexual Orientation Curriculm[sic] Policy.

Beth Hentges raised the issue of notes being sent home from teachers that are addressed to “mom and dad.” Hentges said the salutation does not take into consideration the students who are being raised by same-sex parents, single parents, grandparents, or other family members.

AHEM President Julie Blaha read a statement to the board regarding school climate issues relating to LGBT students and staff. Blaha recommended that the board create and assess a focused, coherent plan to improve the school climate for LGBT students and staff.

November 22, 2010

Dale Schuster, Bill Thurston and Jacob Tighe addressed the board about the issue of bullying.

Robin Mavis addressed the board about safety concerns for GLBT students.

Justin Anderson addressed the board about a letter he received from Superintendent Dennis Carlson after testifying at the November School Board meeting.

Rick Heller continued his conversation with the board about student assessment and assessment reporting.
Okay, so they are hearing the community's concerns, right? They know this is an issue.

So what did the School Board do regarding these concerns?

Well, there's very little action recorded, honestly.

Although the reports are very detailed about issues like re-districting and budget cuts (there are pages of details on these two issues alone), I can find only two short paragraphs even addressing the bullying issue at all, both in November of 2010.

They unanimously voted to add a list of protected classes, "including race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, age, poverty and sexual orientation" to the district’s Equal Education Opportunity, Equal Employment, Harassment, violence and Discrimination, and Bullying Prohibition policies.

Before they did this, you had to go look at the Equal Equal Educational Opportunity Policy to find the protected classes. So, yay? They copied and pasted some stuff?

The second "action"?

Dr. Mary Fonken-Holden, director of Student Services, and Barry Scanlon, District Pre• vention Coordinator, introduced the winners of the district’s 7th annual anti-bullying poster and essay contest. This year’s theme was “Bullying Hurts Everyone!” All students in grades K through 12 were invited to participate. The winners received a medal from School Board Chair Tom Heidemann. Metropolitan Educators Insurance Inc. President Jennifer Bebault presented the winners with bikes she purchased to acknowledge their achievement.
Yay! We held a contest to say bullying is bad, and we gave the winners BIKES!

According to the district website, by the way, the neutrality policy from 1988 is still in effect.

I'm thoroughly disgusted that the superintendant can even stand up and say, "we're working so hard to keep kids alive" with a straight face.
posted by misha at 10:15 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


For Minnesota locals: There is going to be a rally on February 11 (a week from from tomorrow) from 12-1pm in the State Capitol's Rotunda in favor of anti-bullying legislation. Go show your support.
posted by jiawen at 10:22 AM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


I have so much respect for kids these days.

I was bullied pretty badly in school, and had a few close calls with suicide as a result.

This was the mid/late-90's: when I graduated, maybe one in five kids had a Hotmail or Yahoo Mail account, maybe one in twenty used ICQ or AIM, and that was it. For all I suffered at the hands of my classmates, once I got off the bus at the end of the day, I was free of them.

If my tormentors could have used Facebook and SMS and whatever against me, if they'd been able to reach out and fuck with me 24/7, I can absolutely guarantee you that I would be dead right now.

I can't even imagine the misery and terror that comes from cyberbullying. Kids who face that every day are welcome on my lawn any damn time.
posted by Zozo at 10:38 AM on February 3, 2012 [9 favorites]


Oh, and I forgot to mention the plight of Native Americans in Minnesota. When we arrived there in the early 80's, the "Indians" were for the most part sequestered in their "reservations". Whites fished their lakes with impunity and treated them like dirt. Then, the tribes got their casinos and developed more impetus started to defend their rights. You should have heard the squealing from all those "hunters" and "fishers" about spear fishing, netting, stealing the hard-earned income from casino partons, etc. That too, has added fuel to the fire that has changed Minnesota into a brand new version of South Carolina.
posted by Sparkticus at 10:48 AM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


People forget that young bullies grow up to become big bullies -- who then take the reigns of power and work to protect their own.

Not always. One of the kids who used to bully and assault me in school came up to me at our 10 year reunion and apologized. He said it was a shitty thing to do, he didn't have a good explanation for it, and he feels terrible that he did that to me.

At first, I was pissed, because I had put that hell that was junior high behind me and tried to forget about it, and here he was digging up this gravesite to satiate his poor feefees.

But then, I changed my mind. He was a kid, then. The failure wasn't truly his - it was the adults around us who should have done better. He was sorry and had the balls to say it.

So, no. They don't all grow up to become big bullies. Sometimes, some of them actually grow up.
posted by Pogo_Fuzzybutt at 10:52 AM on February 3, 2012 [7 favorites]


Bit of a nitpick: Mr. Ventura can be criticized for a variety of things, but I wouldn't lump him in with the other two in this trio.

"Love is bigger than government. Who the hell are we as a government to tell people who you can fall in love with? I think it's absurd, the fact that it's even being debated." - Jesse Ventura on gay marriage
posted by mightygodking at 11:28 AM on February 3, 2012 [12 favorites]


I think the Anoka-Hennepin "neutrality policy" is awful, but is there any evidence that 10 suicides in 2 years is a statistical outlier for a district with 40k students, or that most of the students committing suicide were bullied?

I grew up in Seattle and we had about one suicide a year in high school, which is a vastly higher rate than in Anoka-Hennepin. One of my teachers committed suicide as well. Of course, the kids killing themselves mostly had drug/alcohol/gang problems, not bullying specifically. But it's not like the school or district tried to do anything about it. Why is it newsworthy when wealthy white kids in a conservative religious area kill themselves, but not when poor minority kids in a liberal area kill themselves?

I live in Minnesota now, and while it's definitely more conservative than Seattle, it's still about as progressive as any large city that's not on either coast (minus Chicago). There's this weird quirk that all the conservative religious freaks happened to cluster in one narrow band north of the Twin Cities, while in most other places they're spread out. That's what lead to Bachmann, and I guess the ultra-conservatives on the Anoka-Hennepin school board.

There is one weird thing about Minnesota: everyone who's from here has a huge extended "family" (constantly running into their-cousin's-best-friend's-uncle who-goes-to-church-with-the-guy-who-owns-the-bar...). I think this can make things very hard for people who don't "fit in." But it's not really a liberal/conservative thing, a lot of those big families are solidly progressive.
posted by miyabo at 12:07 PM on February 3, 2012


That too, has added fuel to the fire that has changed Minnesota into a brand new version of South Carolina.

Let's not get all hyperbolic on this issue.

I have lived here all my life and I suspect what we are seeing is an upsurge in the volume of the rants from the right that are creating a perception that Minnesota has somehow become more conservative.

Fact is, over the last 20 Presidential elections, Minnesota has voted for the Democratic Party 17 times including the last 9 straight.

There is a cluster of highly conservative districts just north of the Twin Cities (including the area featured in this post) that have produced a stream of controversy that has been highly publicized. I don't think it is representative of the state as a whole.

One good test will come with the proposed amendment to the state constitution that will be put to the electorate this fall. The amendment would incorporate the 'one man and one woman' language into the definition of marriage. Conservative GOP legislators put it up for referendum only to find out that state wide polls show that it will fail 55%-45%.
posted by mygoditsbob at 1:23 PM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]


Ironically(?), Anoka is Garrison Keillor's home town.

Suburbia contains the last bastions of non-exurban fear and loathing. As otherness moves farther and farther from the urban center, these bastions are getting smaller and smaller, and as they do, their inhabitant's attempts to defend their insular way of life get more and more vicious. The tea partiers who were swept into the MN legislature in the 2010 election are hurrying to pass a bunch of amendments to the state constitution to calcify their longings for years to come before they are kicked out of office. Ban gay marriage, keep the brown people from voting, and destroy labor unions' finances. If not for Mark Dayton in the governor's office, the state would be a shambles of gutted social support services, nutty educational policy, worker abuse, and environmental free-for-fall. I mourn the Minnesota I moved to and enjoyed for three decades. R.I.P.
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:54 PM on February 3, 2012


It should be noted that Anoka proper is a nice little town that existed before the exurbs and shopping centers and stuff mushroomed up around it.
posted by gimonca at 2:38 PM on February 3, 2012


I suspect Frowner hit the nail on the head with the idea that the Somalis get hit by multiple biases, some of which the Hmong were able to dodge. It's also not surprising that the Hmong community is more prominent in local politics and whatever else--they've been here longer. That said, my district has Somali candidates in the state and local government races. I expect this to be true in most districts with a decently-sized Somali community.

There is one weird thing about Minnesota: everyone who's from here has a huge extended "family" (constantly running into their-cousin's-best-friend's-uncle who-goes-to-church-with-the-guy-who-owns-the-bar...). I think this can make things very hard for people who don't "fit in." But it's not really a liberal/conservative thing, a lot of those big families are solidly progressive.

The thing that drives me crazy is that not 'fitting in' often feels like it amounts to not being from Minnesota. It feels like there's the narrative that all 'real Minnesotans' are descended from Scandinavians and their families have never lived anywhere else in the US. We're due to get the Minnesota African-American Museum this year, which might do a little to challenge that narrative, since there have been African-Americans here an awfully long time.

Random anecdote: I told a casual acquaintance that I was moving to Minnesota, the first thing she said was 'They're really racist there.' She was Japanese and had spent (I think) two years living in the state and that was the summary. That's pretty damning, really.
posted by hoyland at 4:19 PM on February 3, 2012 [2 favorites]



The policy implemented by the school board ... was enacted without informing parents or being written in any district handbooks.


Quite apart from the legalities ... a covert policy created by the board of a public institution??? Oh wait, I mean public-financed. Well, isn't that just special!!

In the little town I once taught in, there was a policy against school-board discussions happening outside of public meetings. Thus I was shocked (shocked I tell you) when I went downtown on personal business early one afternoon (to buy donuts) and found 3 school-board members sitting together in one of the restaurant's booths. From all appearances, they were likewise shocked.

I'm convinced there's so much intrigue going on in public education that it actually has a measurable mass.
posted by Twang at 4:21 PM on February 3, 2012


This is why I really don't like elected school boards. They just pander to populism whether its progressive or conservative. Any sort of change in the direction of the board requires either an election or to sue the district which will then be defended at the taxpayer's expense.

Better to just handle it at the state level and have a mix of career bureaucrats and teachers create policy.
posted by Talez at 4:47 PM on February 3, 2012 [1 favorite]


Bachmann's district was gerrymandered conservative, and she still barely wins.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 5:19 PM on February 3, 2012


"Although the reports are very detailed about issues like re-districting and budget cuts (there are pages of details on these two issues alone),"

This is like 80% of what a school board does, which is why it takes up so much ink.

"They unanimously voted to add a list of protected classes, "including race, color, creed, religion, national origin, sex, marital status, disability, age, poverty and sexual orientation" to the district’s Equal Education Opportunity, Equal Employment, Harassment, violence and Discrimination, and Bullying Prohibition policies. Before they did this, you had to go look at the Equal Equal Educational Opportunity Policy to find the protected classes. So, yay? They copied and pasted some stuff?"

Usually the state tells you that you need to incorporate the law into your board policies and gives you the language you will use to do so. So, yeah, that's on purpose. They're usually unanimous votes. (I actually voted against one -- to add a moment of silence that's now part of state law -- as a protest vote because I think that is so aggravatingly unconstitutional, and it actually made statewide NPR newscasts because it's unusual to vote a protest vote against something like that. But I was vindicated because seriously the next day a judge handed down an injunction against implementing it while they have a court case about whether it's Constitutional.)

Where you want to look is in something called something like the "Board Policy Handbook" or something. Find policies on student discipline. That's where you'll find the bullying rules.

That said, I encourage everyone who is pissed off by this kind of thing to run for school board. You can memail me. I will help you. The answer to bad leadership in a democracy is to replace it, and the replacement can be you. School boards are small elections with small constituencies -- it's not overwhelming. Often there aren't that many candidates. If you run in a very conservative town with district-wide voting with four seats open, and you're running liberal, you may come in fourth of seven and get a seat because you get ALL the liberal votes while everyone else splits the conservative votes. Even if you don't win, you can make a lot of noise in the local media -- you get confrontational about gay student rights in your campaign, the local media will report it just because you're being controversial or confrontational -- and in the local community and let those kids know that part of the community cares. You have the power to improve things for these kids by running for office. Do it.

I never pictured myself running for office, but I just got so ANGRY about how things were being done badly and it was hurting our community's children, and I got tired of people just bitching and moaning that it was so awful and shouldn't someone do something about it? So I did. I filed, I ran, I won, and I'm trying my damnedest to do something about it. It's honestly one of the best feelings in the world, serving my community in this way. I strongly, strongly recommend you do it. Someone SHOULD do something about this shit, and that someone is you.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:10 PM on February 3, 2012 [13 favorites]


I cringe every time an article describing a troubled teen, in the context of the LGBTQ struggle, comments on appearance. Specifically the MoJo article talking about Samantha Bachman. When you say that a kid committed suicide, and then follow up with how their hair was short and they wore baggy clothes, you're furthering the stereotype that all not-quite-feminihe girls are lesbians. And also self-loathing time-bombs who can't handle their life.
posted by FirstMateKate at 6:37 PM on February 3, 2012 [5 favorites]


I think the Anoka-Hennepin "neutrality policy" is awful, but is there any evidence that 10 suicides in 2 years is a statistical outlier for a district with 40k students, or that most of the students committing suicide were bullied?

Ah! A request for data. Always good.

According to CDC, Anoka county in Minnesota had 8.3 suicides per 100,000 people across all age groups from 1999 through 2004 (cite).

This district had 5 per 40,000 per year, or 12.5 per 10,000, just across students.

Now, are students more likely? This is hard to tell. Looking around, I see a lot of data from 0-14 and 15-24; the problem is that the school district manages 0-18 or so. However, the data suggests suicides peak strongly in middle age (cite).

So, in summary, yes, 10 in 2 years appears to be a pretty big deal.
posted by effugas at 7:14 PM on February 3, 2012 [3 favorites]


In 25 years of teaching, I've seen one suicide (and several gang-related murders). So, yes, 10 suicides in 2 years seems like a lot.
posted by kozad at 9:45 AM on February 4, 2012 [1 favorite]


The answer, obviously, is that we should no longer buy Apple products manufactured in Minnesota.
posted by La Cieca at 12:20 PM on February 4, 2012


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