The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) put Minnesota’s largest school district on notice that if they did not take immediate steps to address the bullying and harassment commonly faced by LGBT students the district would face a federal lawsuit.
In a letter to Anoka-Hennepin School Superintendent Dennis L. Carlson, the groups said they were prepared to seek immediate remedy under Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972, Section 1983 and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
Among the issues the groups want addressed is for the district to repeal a gag policy that prevents teachers from discussing issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people. The policy “singles out a vulnerable and disfavored minority-LGBT students- and prevents teachers and other district employees from supporting, or even protecting those students within the classroom.”
The gag policy has come under intense scrutiny after several high school students in the district committed suicide as a result of relentless bullying.
The letter was issued after an investigation found that a pervasive atmosphere of hostility exists in the district. One student, after reporting chronic harassment to authorities for over two years, was told to leave the school because the administration would not protect him. Another student faced daily verbal and physical harassment at school because of the perception that she is a lesbian. The district took no action and the student eventually dropped out of school and attempted suicide.
The district has been in denial for months about its need to remedy the hostile atmosphere perpetuated in its schools. Sadly, student deaths were not enough to get the district to change course, but the possibility of a lawsuit and a large damage award may just be. For the sake of the students and the community, I hope it is.
photo courtesy of BluEyedA73 via Flickr