Teachers who engaged in anti-gay bullying now suing school district
December 29th, 2010
The Anoka-Hennepin School Board is that lovely group in Minnesota that continues to have a policy that any mention of homosexuality be “neutral” – that is, non-existent – even though they have had nine student suicides in the past year, four of which were believe to be attributable to anti-gay bullying. Teachers, fearing that opposing anti-gay bullying would be a punishable violation of the policy, simply did nothing to intervene when presumed gay kids were tormented.
But now in some perverse irony, the school board is being sued by some of those to whom they had given implicit permission. (Minn Ind)
An Anoka-Hennepin School District teacher who was accused of harassing a student he thought was gay is suing the state because the Department of Human Rights disclosed his name in a report about the investigation. Walter Filson filed suit against the state of Minnesota late last week. Filson was one of two teachers accused of harassing Alex Merritt, who is not gay. Merritt got a $25,000 settlement from the school district in 2009.
Filson’s suit comes after a similar one filed by Diane Cleveland, whom the Department of Human Rights claimed conspired with Filson to harass Merritt. Earlier this year Cleveland won her lawsuit against the state. A judge ruled that the department should not have disclosed her name because she was not a defendant or plaintiff in the complaint; the department did not actually lodge any penalty against Cleveland or Filson but simply reported the accusations and the department’s conclusions.
Filson and Cleveland have denied repeatedly that they harassed Merritt.
The complaint filed by Filson last week said, “The harm caused to (Filson’s) reputation and privacy interests are irreparable.”
Interestingly, Merritt doesn’t identify as gay. But he was subjected to deliberate, intentional, homophobic bullying in an institutional environment by those who were entrusted by the state with power over him. He was the victim of long-term anti-gay abuse.
Just for some perspective, here are a few of the claims:
Beginning with the start of the 2007-2008 school year, Alex Merritt, a male high school student in the Anoka-Hennepin School District began to experience harassment from two of the respondent’s teachers, who perceived that the student was gay. Diane Cleveland singled him out on nearly a daily basis by making jokes, comments and innuendos about her perception of his sexual orientation. “Merritt’s fence swings both ways,” “Merritt’s boat floats in a different direction than the rest of the guys in the class” and “Would you like to have [another allegedly gay student] go with you so he can sit in the stall next to you and stomp his foot?” were among the female teacher’s comments. Cleveland made her comments in front of other students and allowed them to laugh, and would share her comments with Walter Filson, another teacher. The male teacher would repeat, add his own jokes, and allow other students in the class to joke about the boy’s perceived sexual orientation.
Specifically, the Minnesota Department of Human Rights verified
- When Cleveland learned that the student was doing a report on Ben Franklin for her class, she made comments in front of the class that implied that the student had a “thing for older men”;
- When Cleveland’s class was watching the 1989 film, Christmas Vacation, she covered the screen during a swimming pool/bathing suit scene and commented, “It’s OK if Merritt watches this because he isn’t into that sort of thing anyway… maybe if it was a guy.”
- When another student presented a report in Filson’s class regarding a deer that had been molested, a student said, “Hey, Mr. Filson, doesn’t that sound like something Alex Merritt would do?” The male teacher allegedly agreed and laughed.
- After students came to Filson’s classroom seeking male participates for a fashion show, he stated, “Take Merritt because he enjoys wearing woman’s clothes… he would love to be in the show.”
The School Board investigated, found the complaint to be true… and did virtually nothing. Cleveland was required to do one day of “reflecting on equality and diversity in the classroom” and was given a two-day suspension. Had the state not intervened, neither they nor the school board would have experienced much discomfort as consequence of tormenting a child. Only after the State Department of Human Rights rebuked the School Board, did they settle with Merrit’s family for $25,000.
It is important to note that the facts were confirmed by separate witnesses and are now incontrovertible. Two separate investigations reveal that Cleveland and Filson said and did exactly what they are accused of; they willfully engaged in bullying a child over his perceived sexual orientation.
In my opinion, these teachers should have been fired upon conclusion of the first investigation. They should have been stripped of any licenses or credentials they carry. They have violated the trust of the community in a most horrific way and should never be in a position where they supervise children again.
And, yes, they deserve to have their “reputation and privacy interests” harmed. People of good character should point at them and condemn them on the street. Jail time is not even out of the question, in my mind.
Instead they are suing, claiming that they “didn’t harass anyone” and their reputations have been damaged by the disclosure of what they did and said. And I’m sure that this School Board will happily give them money.
Evil, evil people.