Embattled Minnesota school district Anoka-Hennepin is being sued by a sixth student over the district’s sexual orientation policy that lawyers argue prevents staff from addressing LGBT issues, and most seriously anti-LGBT bullying.
The lawsuit launched by the National Center for Lesbian Rights was filed in federal district court in Minneapolis on Wednesday on behalf of a lesbian student and is a companion case to Doe v. Anoka-Hennepin School District No. 11, a federal lawsuit previously reported here that on behalf of five other district students argues the district has, through virtue of its policies, facilitated and refused to combat anti-LGBT bullying to the point at which students have endured anti-LGBT slurs and physical threats if not assaults as part of a daily routine. What is more, the suit charges that when such incidents are reported to teachers or school officials there has been almost no action taken because school officials are tied by the gag policy — a policy the district continues to defend as being a neutral standpoint on alternative lifestyles.
The sixth student, who is referred to by her initials of E.R. in the complaint because she is a minor, started attending Anoka-Hennepin’s Jackson Middle School in September 2010 after her family moved into the district. Beginning on her first day in school, she faced a constant, daily barrage of taunts from other students, who called her names like’“faggot,’ ‘dyke,’ ‘he/she,’ and ‘it.’ While she regularly reported the harassment to teachers and administrators, they did not protect her. A staff member once told E.R. that she had heard other staff talking about E.R. in the office, saying that they wished the school could ‘get rid of her.’
“This is yet another incredibly distressing example of how the district’s shameful policy has hurt kids,” said NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell. “The district has to stop turning its back on children, and recognize that its illegal policy that singles out those who are LGBT is the reason that so many children in their schools continue to be tormented—verbally, physically, and emotionally—every day.”
The district has a unique policy relating to LGBT topics in that it instructs teachers to remain “neutral” on the subject of LGBTs, that is to say they cannot appear to affirm that being gay or trans is normal or acceptable, but at the same time should not be seen to condemn pupils. What this reasonable sounding policy has translated to, NCLR argues, is an abandoning of responsibility where LGBT children and anti-LGBT bullying is concerned.
The district has not commented on this most recent case, but said when the original lawsuit was filed in July that the district was disappointed the NCLR has chosen to pursue court action rather than working with the district to improve its bullying policies, though it again reiterated that it fully supports the sexual orientation curriculum policy as it stands.
The district is also currently under investigation by the U.S. Justice Department over complaints of pervasive harassment in the district’s schools. This follows at least seven young people in the district having taken their own lives over the past two years, with a majority of those deaths attributed, at least in part, to bullying.