Homosexuality, abstinence figure huge in suburban election drama

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Social conservatives are claiming victory in the resignation of a popular suburban school superintendent upset with results of a recent school board election. Tom Westerhaus of the Prior Lake-Savage school district decided to quit rather than work for a newly elected school board member whom he fired as a district employee months ago.

School Board Member Chris Lind, a conservative Christian, was fired from his position as high school campus supervisor last June following accusations of inappropriately giving students his views on issues involving sexuality — that homosexuality was immoral. Lind’s position as campus supervisor, not an educator, factored in the district’s decision to terminate him.

He subsequently ran for and won a seat on the district board.

In June, School Board Chairman Michael Murray outlined the case against Lind, a hallway and parking lot supervisor. In August 2006 a parent complained that Lind had a conversation with a student about sexual orientation, an incident that led to a written reprimand from Superintendent Westerhaus, demanding that Lind refrain from such conversations with students. In January 2007, a school employee overheard Lind having a discussion on bisexuality with students, and Lind was suspended for three days by Westerhaus. In May 2007 a student heard Lind say, “Today is National Pick-On Lesbians Day.” Murray told the School Board in June that it was the last straw. “An investigation was conducted and, based on the previous disciplinary action and directives, the district administration concluded that Chris’s employment should be terminated,” said Murray according to the Prior Lake American. The board voted 4-2 to terminate Lind.

After his termination, Lind ran for school board and two weeks ago won a seat on the board that terminated him. His supervisor, Westerhaus, has announced his resignation due to Lind’s election. In a letter to school employees and the school board, Westerhaus wrote,

[W]ith the school board election on Tuesday, I have decided I can no longer work in this district. The election to the board of a former employee whom I had progressively disciplined and ultimately recommended for final dismissal from employment in our district last summer, confirmed for me that it was time to move on. The community has spoken through this election, and therefore I will seek employment elsewhere to more successfully continue my 35-plus years in education.

The Minnesota Family Council is hailing Lind’s election as a victory for abstinence-only sex education, as both they and Lind contend that his firing was due to his off-campus discussions regarding sex education. The Family Council points to the recollection of Jim Fry, a friend od Lind, who attended a January 2007 meeting with Lind and the head of human resources at the school. Fry recalled the events of that meeting six months later in a notarized letter.

Lind has said numerous times that he intends to file a lawsuit against the school district for violation of religious liberties. The Star Tribune reports that he may still consider a lawsuit.

“Voters override high school gag order on abstinence by electing Chris Lind to the school board,” wrote Chuck Darrell, communications director for the Family Council. “Looks like voters have given Lind, and his healthy message of abstinence, the bully pulpit.”

The Family Council also took issue with coverage of the election, finding a slant to the coverage. “As usual, the ever-shrinking Star Tribune refused to print the whole story regarding the election of Chris Lind to the Prior Lake/Savage school board last week,” wrote Darrell. The fact that Fry’s testimony was left out media coverage was deliberate, Darrell said. “Why are the Star Tribune and the Prior Lake/Savage school board working so hard to color the story? Perhaps it’s because comprehensive sex education is a colossal failure.”

But Lind’s election as a sign of district support for abstinence and religious discussion in school hallways becomes murkier as one of Lind’s supporters was voted off the board. Additionally, Lind ran on a platform of fiscal conservatism. Blogger DJ Danielson asks, “[I]f the citizens were upset that Lind was fired, why was Dick Booth, who was one of two “nays” on Lind’s termination vote, sent packing?”

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