MN school district policy bans teaching “divisive concepts”

Published 4:33 pm Monday, August 8, 2022

BECKER, Minn. (AP) — A central Minnesota school district is clashing with the teachers union and LGBTQ allies over a proposed policy that opponents say would undermine equity and inclusion.

The proposal by three Becker school board members prohibits “political indoctrination or the teaching of inherently divisive concepts,” in the district’s schools.

Policy opponents say the district is trying to stifle free speech, suppress LGBTQ students and advocates, and prohibit the accurate teaching of history and other subjects. And a few groups are threatening to sue the district if the policy is implemented, the Star Tribune reported.

It’s just the latest in a list of polarizing issues that have surfaced in classrooms nationwide, including over displaying pride flags, teaching critical race theory and supporting marginalized students.

“It is, frankly, hard to know where to begin in unpacking the problems with this general policy statement,” said Meg Luger-Nikolai, attorney with the statewide teachers union Education Minnesota, who noted the prohibition of personal bias could make the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance subject to discipline because it requires showing prejudice in favor of the U.S. and its flag.

A Wisconsin school district recently reinterpreted an existing policy to include a ban on displaying gay pride flags in classrooms and including preferred pronouns in email signatures.

When the Kettle Moraine School District posted the policy on social media, it drew hundreds of comments in opposition.

And in Florida earlier this year, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law new guidelines involving race-based discussions in schools as part of his campaign against critical race theory, which he called “pernicious” ideology. The legislation bars instruction that says members of one race are inherently racist, and that they should feel guilt for past actions committed by others of the same race or that a person’s status as privileged or oppressed is necessarily determined by their race.

In Minnesota’s Becker district, 47 miles (75 kilometers) northwest of Minneapolis, the proposed policy would dictate that “neither political indoctrination or the teaching of inherently divisive concepts will be allowed” and that classrooms must be free of any personal bias.

The school board had the first reading of the policy in July, but no members discussed it. The board’s policy committee plans to meet again after the proposal is reviewed by legal counsel, likely before the next board meeting Sept. 12.