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It’s business as usual

District maintains position on LGBTQ+ curriculum
Sarah Kluckhohn
On Feb. 13, several news media sources published stories claiming Park will newly allow opt outs for LGTBQ+ content. This is not new — Park has always had an opt out option.

Rumors of a potential parental lawsuit have been brewing through the halls, posing the question: what will Park do next? On Feb. 13, several articles published stories claiming that Park will now allow families to opt out from LGBTQ+ curricula. Following this, a clarification was made: nothing’s new — Park has always allowed families to opt out of curriculum.

In accordance with state laws, Park has always offered an opt out option. According to Superintendent Dr. Kate Maguire, Park will not change curriculum or opt out procedures as Park continues to comply with Minnesota state law.

“Several news media published stories about St. Louis Park Public Schools’s position on opting out of literacy curriculum and materials that include LGBTQ+ themes. We feel it’s important that our families receive accurate information directly from us on this matter,” Maguire said. “I want to assure you that there are no plans to make any changes to our curriculum in response to recent concerns. St. Louis Park Public Schools has always complied with the state law regarding parents’ statutory right to opt out of instructional materials, and we will continue to do so. Our policy around reviewing instructional materials and seeking alternative curriculum is based on state law and has been in place since 2006.”

According to sophomore Tess Machalek, if given the choice, she wouldn’t opt out of curriculum due to the implications for marginalized communities and her desire to learn about opposing beliefs.

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“I think (opt outs) negatively affect the LGBTQ+ community, as well as normal students, because it takes away the opportunity for some students to learn about different people, about those different from them and about different people in the community,” Machalek said. “I think that overall hurts our community bond as a whole. I would not opt out, I think it’s important that we learn about those who have different opinions and different backgrounds. It’s important that we all get it.”

Even though the community, who generally is very accepting and embracing of people of different backgrounds, it’s hard to see it up close and be reminded that there are people in our community that don’t accept other people in our community

— Kyle Sweeney

The bulk of challenges center on literature, as they handle a wide breadth of content. English department head Andrew Carlson said that he offers opt outs based on the potential triggers in the content he teaches, but that he has never had a student or family opt out in his 11 years of teaching.

“Most of my opt outs are due to certain content that I don’t think is questionable, but that some students might not be able to process or might have potential triggers. ” Carlson said. “[When showing Schindler’s List] I send letters and emails to parents to let them know that if they are not comfortable with their student viewing the graphic nature of the film or students themselves are uncomfortable, I will allow them to opt out because I do not want to compound any sort of trauma they might experience. In all honesty, I have never had anyone opt out of Schindler’s List, and I haven’t had any students opt out of any film in cinema.”

According to Carlson, he thinks the reason most students choose not to opt out of curriculum is actually because the option to opt out makes them feel safer in the classroom.

“I think a lot of it has to do with the student side of knowing that they have that option. My perspective gives them a sense of, ‘Okay I’m safe. If I don’t feel comfortable with this then I’m opting out,’ so that the claustrophobia that can come with them being forced into something may be released,” Carlson said. “On the parent’s part, just the knowledge of what their kids are doing in school is a thing.”

Former GSA (Gay Straight Alliance) advisor Kyle Sweeney said that while she’s hopeful that opt out options will have minimal impact on the LGTBQ+ community, it’s hard to be reminded that Park’s community isn’t totally accepting of diverse perspectives.

“Even though the community, who generally is very accepting and embracing of people of different backgrounds, it’s hard to see it up close and be reminded that there are people in our community that don’t accept other people in our community,” Sweeney said. “It’s a hard reminder that exists here. Park is a place that has been historically very welcoming and accepting of different kinds of people. My hope is that it will have a really minimal impact.”

The potential parental lawsuit was facilitated through True North Legal and First Liberty Institute. Associate Counsel at First Liberty Kayla Toney said the diversity and inclusion at Park must include religious groups.

“Diversity and inclusion must extend to religious families, too,” said Toney. “This is why the First Amendment specifically protects religious exercise.”

Maguire said that while Park will comply with state law by offering all families an option to opt out of curriculum, she wants to emphasize that opting out of curriculum because of diverse representation doesn’t align with Park’s core values.

“We also want our school community to understand that opt outs based on representation of protected classes do not align with our organizational core value of advocacy for equity or with our focus on creating a safe and inclusive learning and working environment in our schools,” Maguire said. “I want to reiterate that stories with LGBTQ+ themes are an important part of helping our students understand the experiences of people from all walks of life and we believe that such stories promote empathy, tolerance and respect among our students, and they will remain an integral part of our curriculum.”

This story was originally published on The Echo on February 14, 2024.