Union rallies behind teacher who showed video promoting LGBT activism

"Why aren't we being transparent with parents on these issues? What are we trying to hide?" said school board member Lisa Atkinson.

Lorinda Welch, Cassie Bernhardt, and Tanya Schaper speak before the school board at its June 12 meeting. (Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools/YouTube)

The Prior Lake-Savage Area Schools teachers union defended a teacher who showed  students a video promoting Pride month and the trans movement while discrediting conservative school board members and casting doubt on a parents group.

The union said the district is responsible for “promoting equity and inclusion” and upholding its policy on inclusion.

This is not about equity and inclusion; it’s about parents’ rights and politics, according to Lisa Atkinson, a school board member.

Parents contacted Atkinson to complain after Hidden Oaks Middle School teacher Lorinda Welch showed a BrainPop video promoting the LGBTQ lifestyle to students without notifying parents. BrainPop videos are available through the district.

Welch did not list the video on Schoology, which is the platform parents use to view curriculum and lessons, according to Atkinson. If the video had been on the platform, parents would have had the opportunity to opt their kids out, Atkinson said.

She said the video should have been there with a note saying, “today we’re going to view a video on trans acceptance.”

Atkinson said the Pride movement is political, and teachers should be teaching, not encouraging activism.

She said the union rallied behind Welch at a June 12 meeting after school board members expressed concern earlier this month about teachers bringing politics into the classroom by wearing pride t-shirts and displaying LGBTQ flags.

“Teachers are not supposed to bring politics into the classroom,” Atkinson said. “I believe it was a reaction to me bringing up a concern regarding the gay pride activities, the teachers wearing pride t-shirts, then this particular teacher showing this video in her classroom.”

Without explicitly mentioning the video, Welch addressed the school board at its June 12 meeting, saying she has an obligation to uphold the district’s equity and inclusion policy.

“As a teacher, I am obligated to carry out the district’s mission, therefore, I must speak out against exclusion and bigotry whenever I see it or hear it,” she said during the public comment section of the school board meeting.

The district is responsible for creating “a safe, secure, and inclusive environment for all learners,” regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, she said.

Union members packed the meeting where Welch criticized the national conservative group Moms for Liberty, calling them hateful and bigoted.

“Apparently there’s a group in our community who advocate for ‘liberty’ in our schools, but I wonder just whose liberty they are for,” Welch said as she addressed the board.

After Welch spoke for three minutes, two additional teachers spoke on her behalf, criticizing the local affiliate of Moms for Liberty, Lakers for Liberty.

Tanya Schaper, a Hidden Oaks math teacher and treasurer for the local union, said groups like Moms for Liberty and Lakers for Liberty are working to take control of schools.

“This movement is based on fear of the unknown and fear of change, and it works to gain power and control over education’s goal of equity and inclusion,” she said.

Cassie Bernhardt, a former Twin Oaks Middle School teacher and current teacher at Chaska High School where she is the advisor to the Gender and Sexuality Alliance, spoke on behalf of Welch as well.

She said, according to the district’s commitment to equity and inclusion, it is required to promote “equity and inclusion for all people,” regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.

Education Minnesota President Denise Specht threw her support behind Welch as well by attending a union-sponsored pizza party before the board meeting.

Atkinson emailed the Hidden Oaks Middle School principal expressing parents’ concerns over the BrainPop video and the lack of parental notification.

“As an advocate for parents rights, I believe the video should have been listed as part of  the curriculum, and the parents should have the right to be able to view the video and opt out of a controversial video like this,” Atkinson said.

Atkinson said the principal’s response to the parents’ concerns indicated he is not considerate of parents who have different viewpoints.

“Dr. Edwards and I viewed the video that was shown last week and we found it appropriate for both the Global Studies class and the grade level,” wrote Principal Sasha Kuznetsov in an email response to Atkinson. “In addition, Mrs. Welch shared with us that similar videos are played each month a marginalized community is being nationally recognized. The particular video in question, rather than promoting LGBTQ, is a reminder to treat all humans with respect.”

Dr. Dan Edwards is the director of teaching and learning for Prior Lake schools.

Not putting the video on Schoology shows a lack of transparency,  according to Atkinson.

“Why aren’t we being transparent with parents on these issues? What are we trying to hide?” she said.

Alpha News reached out to Kuznetsov for comment but did not receive a response by the time of publication. The union referred Alpha News to a statement it provided to the Prior Lake American.


Sheila Qualls

Sheila Qualls is an award-winning journalist and former civilian editor of an Army newspaper. Prior to joining Alpha News, she was a Christian Marriage and Family columnist at Patheos.com and a personal coach. Her work has been published in The Upper Room, the MOPS blog, Grown and Flown, and The Christian Post. She speaks nationally on issues involving faith and family.