Alden-Conger teacher’s teaching material causing controversy

Published 4:39 pm Tuesday, December 14, 2021

Parents and others flooded the Alden-Conger School District’s school board meeting Monday night sharing concerns about teaching material reportedly given to students by one of the high school’s teachers. 

The board room was filled to capacity with several audience members standing in the hallway. 

At the center of concern was concurrent enrollment teacher Jenny Hughes and two poems assigned to her students — one called “Lure,” which describes the molestation of a young girl by her grandfather, and another called “Lisp,” which describes experiences of a homosexual boy. Concurrent enrollment allows high school students to take college-level courses and receive credit.

Parent Janel Heideman, who has children at the school but not in Hughes’ class, said she had spoken at the previous school board meeting about her concerns and reminded the school board members they are all mandated reporters who are required to report when they are made aware of possible misconduct. She said each would be held responsible for assisting in what she called “the sexual harassment and distribution of pornographic material.” 

“At this point, all we are requesting is that you fire Mrs. Hughes, remove this perversion and update your school policies so this never happens again,” Heideman said. “If you are not willing to do this, then we will go further with  our proceedings, which could include, but not limited to, a formal lawsuit.”

Heideman said that could include the board members themselves. She also referenced a petition that has reportedly been started by the students to terminate Hughes. 

Heideman said she lived only a mile away from a school in Albert Lea but chose to take her children to Alden-Conger because she thought it was a good school. 

“You are on this school board because you have children that you care about at this school,” she said. “Don’t let them be the victim of this devilish act.”

Heideman after the meeting said she has also reached out about the issue to the Freeborn County Sheriff’s Office and the Child Protection League, and she and the other parents who are upset about the matter are not afraid to get an attorney.

“The sky’s the limit when it comes to my children,” she said. 

Kristin Peterson said when Heideman first contacted a deputy about the teacher, he recommended proof of behavior, through something such as voice recording or camera recording.

“I’m only trying to protect the kids, and if something weird is going on, we want to know about it as parents,” she said. 

She noted she was met with a letter by Superintendent Brian Shanks that these actions were against the handbook to do so, and she could be met with recourse and students could be met with disciplinary action. 

Instead of putting disciplinary actions on the children and parents, she said the school needs to look at the source and deal with that instead. 

Jason Peterson, a 1991 Alden graduate, said he has always been proud of the community but in recent weeks he is so disappointed in the school board and school district that he doesn’t even want to live there. 

“Everybody has heard about it,” he said. “Everybody is tired of it. Now it’s time for you guys to take action.” 

A few also spoke out about the importance of the concurrent enrollment class and how hard the students have worked, not only in the class but to obtain their associate’s degree. 

Neda Johnson said she has a senior daughter who is in one of Hughes’ concurrent enrollment classes and was there on behalf of many parents of students who need the class. 

“The fact that our children may not graduate with their associate’s degree that they have worked for three years to attain because of hearsay and unsubstantiated claims is not fair to our students, and that’s why we’re here is for our students, our children. They have worked hard for their associate’s degree, and unsubstantiated claims and hearsay is not a reason for them not to continue in that class.”

Paige Diekmann said she is a student in Hughes’ class for literature. 

“I believe that I need this class,” Diekmann said. “Without this class, I will not get my Associate of Arts degree. This seems unfair to me because I have worked really hard for it.” 

She also referenced a classmate who is concerned about not having the class next semester and having to go online for the class. 

“The struggles online are incredible and learning in person is so much easier,” she said. “It would be so much better for us to have Mrs. Hughes’ class in-person.”

Danelle Jacobs said her daughter is in Hughes’ class and she came home and made her mother aware of the poems.

“For her it was a stretch,” Jacobs said. “She’s kind of a sheltered kid, and it was a stretch to read that, but this is college — this is preparing her for college.” 

She said her family took a moment to discuss the poems, along with their take on them as a family. 

“I do not expect the school to provide a moral compass for my children,” Jacobs said. “I am the parent. The school is there to teach arithmetic, math, calculus, English, all of those things. The school is there to teach those things, but I am her mother. I am there to provide the moral compass.”

She said she thinks the situation prepared her daughter for college and gave her something to say that though she may not agree with what was written, this is how she would deal with it. 

“The kids in this college-level course are old enough to handle it, to come back home and discuss with their parents and take with it what they’ll learn,” she said. 

District 27A Rep. Peggy Bennett, R-Albert Lea, said in an interview Tuesday she was contacted by concerned parents about the poems and alleged inappropriate comments made by the teacher last week to the class and connected the parents with the Child Protection League after hearing the parents had already contacted the school district and law enforcement without any action.

“I don’t think schools need to be a part of that for sure,” Bennett said, noting that is one of the reasons she has been speaking against comprehensive sex education. 

She said she is pleased parents are becoming more involved with their children’s education and said parents need to know what their child is being taught. Teachers also need to be especially careful of all the different viewpoints that might be in the classroom. 

Julie Quist, board chairwoman with the Child Protection League, a nonprofit organization that works to “protect children from exploitation, indoctrination and violence,” said in an interview Tuesday that the organization sent a letter to the superintendent and school board members expressing concern about the teacher and what was taking place in the classroom. 

“There’s just no reason that she should be exposing minors to that kind of obscenity and normalizing sexual practices that are violating the community,” Quist said. 

She said the organization has heard concerns of similar incidents happening all over the state. 

“It provides a pretext for removing our cultural standards of right and wrong and imposing that on the community,” Quist said. It’s done in the name of cultural diversity — it’s as if it doesn’t matter because other cultural points of view are supposed to be brought in and the culture of the local community is disrespected and trampled on.” 

The school board did not address the issue during the meeting.

Shanks in an email on Tuesday said that a complaint had been filed but he could not discuss the nature of the complaint.

“The school district is investigating this complaint,” he said.  

An email to Hughes on Tuesday has not been returned.