What would you call a “welcoming” school?


In the 20th century it meant the squat brick building down the block that took your kids when they were 6 and popped them out into the world when they were 18. Parents said thank you; the schools said you’re welcome.

Today, in the post-everything age, even the task of signing a kid up for kindergarten is a highly fraught endeavor, including paperwork and assessments. But in the end a school is selected, the child is registered, the parents toast with juice boxes and hope for the best in the fall. As an admittedly anxiety-ridden parent with a tendency to overthink just about everything, the whole process was grueling. In the end, our community school, the squat brick building named for patriot Nathan Hale, welcomed our son in September 2005.

I should mention that at no time did my husband and I consider a private school. We live in Minneapolis purposefully, and our commitment to this community extends to our son’s education. As he grows older and his needs change, perhaps we will re-evaluate. But we’re convinced that the only education a young kid needs is how to get along with other people. There’s no better place for that than in the Minneapolis Public Schools.

Every school in Minneapolis has a pie chart that breaks down the racial makeup of a school, as well as the percentage of families who qualify for free or reduced lunch. District statisticians can spout the number of children who are classified as English language learners and those who receive special education services. But none of these numbers can fully capture the rainbow of diversity that is encountered at a public school. Children and adults at Hale bring an array of thoughts, backgrounds, and experiences that contribute to my son’s real education every single day.

But now, there’s a different kind of rainbow that’s bothering some parents at Hale. It’s the capital-R Rainbow, the official symbol of the civil rights struggle of gays, lesbians, bisexuals and transgender folks. The principal at Hale, Bob Brancale, announced to the Hale community that our school had an opportunity to participate in a new curriculum designed by the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s leading GLBT rights organization. The curriculum, titled Welcoming Schools, addresses family diversity and bullying. Brancale stated in his letter to parents that he lobbied to get the program at Hale because of the continued use of anti-gay slurs among students. The family diversity component merely reflects the increasing number of GLBT families in the district.

At a March 6 community meeting, some parents objected to the curriculum’s sponsor, a political action group. Some argued that instruction time is too precious to spend on this topic. One frustrated mother said that opting her kids out of the program would subject them to bullying. Then have them take the curriculum to learn how bullying is unfair, said a district representative. But no, the mother spluttered. No no NO. Then the truth came out: This curriculum would undermine her parental authority. The children would learn something was OK at school that they learned was wrong at home. What was that something? Well, gee. Gay people.

My first impulse was to shout: Go ahead and home-school ’em, lady! But I’m glad that good sense prevailed. For what better place for her children than a public school? What environment is less diverse than the family home? And unless these kids live at home with the TV turned off and the windows nailed shut, they are going to meet some different people. A few gays, too.

That was March. Now, as the school year winds down, the battle is heating up. The Star Tribune’s resident loose cannon Katherine Kersten weighed in on the topic, arguing that the curriculum is political indoctrination. The district has been threatened with legal action from Arizona’s Alliance Defense Fund, and Brancale has been targeted by the Minnesota Family Council, both (shocker!) political action groups. Finally, an anonymous blog is now accusing Brancale of exaggerating Hale’s discipline problems: The word “lies” comes up often.

Enough. I’m all for diversity of opinion, but the above just smacks of bullying (ironic, isn’t it?). Stop panicking, Kersten et al. Get to know Minneapolis, and you’ll find that our diversity is our greatest strength. Hale parents, let’s keep talking. Don’t take your kids from our school. I like them. They are different from my kid, and that’s good.

Shannon Drury is a self-described radical housewife. She lives in Minneapolis with her family.