March 8, 2012

Minnesota School District Pledges To Protect LGBT Students From Bullying



After 7 Student Deaths & Countless Students Bullied and Harassed - Anoka-Hennepin School District Settles Lawsuits
I read that there was a bullying epidemic in a huge school district. Bullying epidemic? The article said kids were afraid to go to school - so they would just stay home. They were physically threatened by other students on the school bus. They were harassed and chased if they walked to school. When they were at school, classmates would stomp on them, trip them, verbally taunt them, hit them, touch their genitals, throw objects at them, pour liquid on them, and treated them worse than a barnyard animal. When they turned to teachers and school administrators for help, they were turned away because there was nothing they could do.


The reporter spoke to some teachers who wanted to address the problem, though school administrators said no. What was particularly maddening for the teachers who genuinely cared about their students, was the fact that some of their students were being picked on and harassed because other kids thought they might be gay. Many of the kids didn’t know who or what they felt sexually, but the students didn’t know that, and didn’t care. The school board, school administration, and many teachers didn’t want to get involved. So they didn’t.

Then the climate got worse. There were seven student suicides from November 2009 to July 2010.

Will Our Politicians Help?

A local resident, and alumnus of the school district, was elected to Congress in 2007. She was very well known, and she campaigned against protecting any kids who might be LGBT, or perceived to be LGBT, because those kids would end up recruiting other students into their life of bondage.


 Congresswoman Michele Marie Bachmann was a graduate of Anoka High School. She grew up in the community, and was a cheerleader in High School. She didn’t attend any funerals, didn’t send any condolence letters, and refused to meet with any of the families affected by these tragedies.

Did she cause these deaths? No. Could she have done something to change the perception of LGBT students in our community? Yes. Could she have expressed her condolences, and let the students and parents know she cared. She chose to remain distant and silent - and continued to demonize and terrorize the LGBT community.

The Feds Are Coming

The Federal Department of Education and the Justice Department investigated the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and a lawsuit was filed on behalf of some of the bullied and harassed kids. The Justice Department announced that the lawsuit was settled and that Minnesota’s largest school district would take several constructive measures to mitigate the bullying and harassment of LGBTQ students, and students perceived to be LGBTQ.

The Minnesota Star Tribune writes:

Elated and feeling vindicated by the settlement of their discrimination suit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District, six teens on Tuesday celebrated an agreement that federal officials called a breakthrough in efforts to combat the bullying of gay and lesbian students in schools from coast to coast.

"I feel alive," Brittany Geldert, a Champlin Park freshman, said at a Minneapolis news conference. "I can live the life I was meant to live and not dwell in the past."

That’s awesome, and I'm so happy for these kids - I hope that they can finally see a ray of sunshine, and learn to be optimistic. It’s so demoralizing to feel as though you’re an outcast, and that you don’t belong. And that feeling is magnified and made worse if you feel that way at home.

The details of the lawsuit and settlement were reported in today’s
Washington Post/, where they reported:

The agreement, which U.S. District Judge Joan Ericksen signed Tuesday, settles two lawsuits filed last summer by six current or former students in the suburban Twin Cities district as well as a separate Justice Department civil rights investigation that began in November 2010.

The students challenged a district policy requiring staff to remain neutral when the topic of sexual orientation came up in the classroom, which they claimed was a gag order that prevented teachers from effectively protecting gay and lesbian students. The policy came under fire after six district students committed suicide in less than two years. Some were identified as gay or seen as gay. The policy was replaced last month with one requiring teachers to foster a respectful learning environment for all students, setting the stage for the settlement.

The Justice Department found sex-based harassment contributed to a “hostile environment” in the district. A court filing Monday night listed 10 current or former students who it said were subjected to severe, pervasive and persistent harassment because they were gay, perceived as gay or failed to conform to gender stereotypes. They reported the abuse, but teachers and administrators failed to protect them, the department alleged.

“I am happy that this agreement will help the kids at Anoka-Hennepin be able to have a welcoming and safe environment,” Kyle said. “I am glad that kids coming up behind me in school won’t have to suffer the same things that I did. And, hopefully, kids at Anoka-Hennepin schools will respect one another more, even if they are different.”

This is terrific news for students enrolled in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and it’s  a step in the right direction. Things won’t get better over night, as changing the culture in a school takes time, and will require the teachers to be vigilant about enforcing the new policy, and watching out for who is being bullied. You have to start somewhere - and I’m glad the school is being proactive about moving forward.

I know that the Southern Poverty Law Center was representing some of the families and victims, and I applaud them and their work.

The MINNPOST reports that the legal team representing the plaintiffs, all were pro bono. That is awesome and amazing!

One last note about those negotiations: [Michael]Ponto and his colleagues deserve a shout-out for the months of fee-free work they put into the case, which was also being pursued by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the local firm Culberth & Lienemann.


Let’s all keep an eye on the Anoka-Hennepin School District - and. I’ll continue to monitor Bozo. She’ll soon find out that karma is a bitch - and what goes around comes around.




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