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Teachers who engaged in anti-gay bullying now suing school district

Timothy Kincaid

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.”

Yep. These teachers are being rewarded for bullying a student. Because, you see, you should be able to torment children under your care without anyone ever finding out.

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.

Comments

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Bobby
December 29th, 2010 | LINK

Absolutely disgusting. They should have been fired and had their credentials revoked. I would pull my own children from their classes if they were ever so unfortunate to end up with these despicable people (or any others of a similar vein) as their teachers. As an aside, I actually did remove my kids from a cretin’s class once. People such as these have no place in a classroom — period.

Norcalben
December 29th, 2010 | LINK

I don’t know how they show their faces at church every Sunday!

Aeval
December 29th, 2010 | LINK

“I don’t know how they show their faces at church every Sunday!”

Where do you think they got their bigotism from?

BlackDog
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

To me I guess the most important question needs to be asked directly to these teachers faces:

“What the f*ck kind of grown-ass adult bullies a KID about possibly being gay? A KID, for f*ck’s sake, and a kid who ain’t even gay at that?

Not that that would make it right, but seriously, what the f*ck kind of morons are you? If you’re gonna start something with somebody, you should at least have the brains to go after the right person. The fact that you don’t makes you a moron.”

THAT is the question somebody needs to ask those teachers AND the school board that supports them.

Bullying is stupid and wrong in the first place, but KIDS do stupid and wrong things all the time. You correct the bad behavior one way or another and keep it up until it stops.

ADULTS should f*cking well know better, especially adults in a position like that.

Call me a redneck throwback all you want, but an ass-whupping is an educational experience. It sounds like a lot of people who needed one at some point didn’t get it. I did my share of dumb sh!t in high school, and found out the hard way action = consequence.

These people are heading towards being the reason some laws get passed, I think. It’s pretty obvious there’s a problem, and it’s pretty obvious that at the minimum a criminal level of dereliction of duty or neglect is going on.

I think it’s more than that, I think they’re fostering an environment where there’s a lot of bullying on purpose, and I’d bet money it’s not just the gay kids that get bullied.

There needs to be an investigation, that’s for sure, and if the school board and the local police won’t do their jobs and the state hands out a slap on the wrist, that’s what the federal Department of Education, and the FBI, is for.

Demand Equality
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

Maybe it is time for us to go after that School Board and demand that these teachers be fired http://www.anoka.k12.mn.us/education/components/form/default.php?sectiondetailid=114199&

Ben in Oakland
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

chutzpah:

the ifne art of killing your parents, and then throwing yourself on the mercy of the court because you’re an orphan.

Dave H
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

Why the heck were they watching “Christmas Vacation” in school? This is appropriate curriculum? Anyone could be convinced that this was a terrible teacher just at this point.

The fact that the student is not actually gay doesn’t change a thing. Although unintended, mentioning this point kind of says that the teachers’ horrific behaviors could have been more understandable if the student was gay.

BlackDog
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

Way I see it, the fact that they couldn’t even go after the right person specifically illustrates how stupid these people are, and for that matter how uncaring and unwilling to actually observe and get to know their own student (BtW isn’t that part of their JOB?) they were. It’s not hard to figure out something like that, if you ask me.

But then, I’ve heard from multiple sources (Including someone on here I think) that Anoka-Hennepin sports teams have the name of the school district in the shape of a cross on their T-shirts. If that’s true (and represents the mentality I think it does) I guess I shouldn’t be too suprised by something like that.

My best friend in high school was a girl who had short hair, hunted, played sports and liked to work on mechanical things. There were always rumors either about us (because we hung out a lot) or about her being gay.

So yes, I have seen how much a situation like that sucks.

BlackDog
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

Also, yes, have to echo the WTF were they doing watching “Christmas Vacation” in class?

At least “It’s a Wonderful Life” might have some educational value.

Regan DuCasse
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

Yes, the adults in the equation are the ones who should have lead the way in not accepting such immature and fractious behavior to begin with!
Engaging in it as well, an adult should take their LUMPS for their behavior too.

All the way around, these two people are evidently mentally and emotionally ARRESTED.
Not only did they engage in snarky, negative immature behavior (that puts students at physical and mental risk), they don’t want to take responsibility for it any more than a child would want to.
Whining over and trying to get paid that their reputations or whatever are damaged is just TOO BAD.
They acted badly, suck it up!
And don’t do it any more.
Teacher, learn something!

BlackDog
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

Ack, I just thought of something.

There’s a ton of stereotypes that get played on in Christmas Vacation, and a lot of crude humor, sees like that might be endemic of the problem.

It’s a movie that I thought was hilarious, when I was 16. Now that I’m older and have a different viewpoint, it’s not a movie I’d want my kids to be shown in school, if I had any.

Regan DuCasse
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

I would think that A Christmas Carol would be the most appropriate movie that would reflect the values that people like this are always claiming they have.

The best version was that with George C. Scott as Scrooge. But it’s a short novel, that could be required reading everywhere.

The turning point in the story was while Scrooge was with the spirit of the present. Who told Scrooge that when he pondered the surplus population he should know who it is and where it is and that perhaps it was HIS life that had less worth than that of this poor man’s (Bob Cratchit)child.

And when Scrooge was shown who was under the spirit’s coat, they were the twins named Ignorance and Want, Man’s most dangerous children.

Not so ironic that an educational institution would represent the twin Ignorance in how they treat gay or perceived gay kids.

Michael b
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

You have got to be kidding me?
Suing the school board because they are embarassed about getting caught harassing a youth. I say put up billboards witht their names and pictures telling everyone wht they did.
Shame on them and shame on the american justice system for condoning the ability to enable is act to happen.

mike/
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

what they did is public record, if the account is true; also, being school board employees, unless the board did actions in ‘executive session’, they don’t have the right to that privacy; and even if it was done in ‘executive session’, the results must be entered into the public record – they are paid with taxpayer monies, consequently they are governmental employees who are held to a different set of rules than the private sector; you can legally find out how much their salary is1

i question why there is no mention of union action; they would have had to come to their defense if they had cause that anything was counter to contract. this all seems pretty fishy…

Heather Thoms
December 30th, 2010 | LINK

Being a teacher myself, I do not believe that these teachers be given any leniency or any compensation. They have been given a job that influencss children on a daily basis and should lose all their rights to this job now or in the future. Any teacher that treats a student differently because of their orientation, beliefs or practices should be fired and not given the opportunity to do it again. Students, young or old, are entrusted to teachers to lead and guide them to become productive, giving and informed citizens and not informed on their personal beliefs. I am appaled that any school board or government in today’s society who approves of this behavior should be fired and kicked out of any place of power.

Teri
December 31st, 2010 | LINK

Has anyone stopped to think about the other side of the story? How come no one has asked the question of “what is the other side of the story?” Obviously the author of this editorial has only a one sided opinion, and the rest of you are following him like he is the pied piper. Heather, as a teacher yourself, I would have expected you to do more research and find the facts on both sides before posting your comment. When this is all said and done, that kid, his family and the rest of the of the citizens will know the truth. Those teachers were never questioned, allowed to tell the other side or even asked what happened. I would like to see a news article on the teacher’s point of view. I guess that is the difference between the kid and the teachers. They are being the adults and waiting for the courts to decide the outcome and not go spreading lies about others (like the kid and his family did). Those teachers have had death threats against them and their family. Do all you readers really think that this issue is so terrible that lives should be lost? If you do, I think the problem lies within and not with the teachers…

PS. Blackdog. I appreciate your right to free speech, but next time, try to be a little more mature and use bigger words rather than just swearing. It would allow people to see your point and not your stupidity….

Timothy Kincaid
December 31st, 2010 | LINK

Teri:

There is no “other side” to the issue of teachers bullying children for their being pereived gay. It is always wrong.

Mihangel apYrs
January 1st, 2011 | LINK

Teri
“…Do all you readers really think that this issue is so terrible that lives should be lost?…”

Lives have been lost, those of bullied children who kill themselves!

You also betray your pre-judgement of the case by talking about the kid’s “lies”. Now I don’t know the truth of the matter, but I have come to trust BTB as a reasonable source. If the facts are as reported here, then the anger expressed here is rather temperate in view of the dereliction of duty

Paul J. Stein
January 1st, 2011 | LINK

http://www.anoka.k12.mn.us/education/components/scrapbook/default.php?sectiondetailid=226914& Contact them here!

Jason D
January 2nd, 2011 | LINK

Teri, multiple allegations have been VERIFIED.

Is there really an “other side” to this:

“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.”

The entire conversation was inappropriate. The student who said “doesn’t that sound like something Alex Merritt would do?” should have been told to be respectful of his classmates and THAT should’ve been the end of it.

There is NO excuse for this kind of behavior from a teacher. None. There’s no way you can spin these FACTS as being part of some legitimate educational interest. It’s bullying. It’s immature and both teachers should be fired immediately.

There’s no way this could be a simple misunderstanding, or string of misunderstandings.
A child’s life vs. a teacher’s job? No contest, the kid wins. The Teacher can always find another job.

Emily K
January 2nd, 2011 | LINK

Teri, what do YOU think the “other side” of the case is, after reading the independently verified claims of what those teachers and did to those kids?

How do you think such actions even HAVE an “other side”? What could that even BE? “the kids were bullying the teachers”??

Regan DuCasse
January 2nd, 2011 | LINK

WELL, Teri?
You got asked questions to back up your reasoning.
What’s the subtext you’re getting at, Teri?
Is it what Emily K is suggesting. That the teachers were bullied?

Teri, it’s been open season on all kinds of kids with tragic results. This is hardly new, it’s been going on for decades, but only now has made it to national discussion.
But as we can see, a GAY kid or one perceived to be, was not only singled out by students but teachers as well.
Meaning, the teachers, with their position of influence and power to challenge and stop such a thing, engaged in it as well.

And particularly when it was gay related.
There IS no other side to this, just because the teachers in question are too immature and cowardly to own up to THEIR behavior.
They aren’t even denying they did it really. They just don’t like that there are consequences to it.

Teri
January 5th, 2011 | LINK

So, I see that I have raised some discussion and bad feelings towards myself. I think that there are two sides to every story. How do we know that the kid was not lying about what was said to him? I in no way shape or form condone bullying or any type of abuse. If these statements were true and had been documented after full investigation by the proper authorities, then I too would have to agree that those teachers should be punished at least lose their jobs and teaching licenses. However, those comments that the author Timothy Kincaid quoted are not fully verified by the state. The teachers were never questioned, the majority of the students in the classroom were not questioned, and most importantly of all, the kid (now an adult) was not questioned appropriately. My point is that there is a legal system out there to protect ALL citizens. I believe that the author did not take in to consideration all the facts, because all of the facts have not yet been published. I also wonder why a picture of the “victim” has not been published in this article as pictures of the teachers have. I also want to speak to the comments made by Mihangel apYrs. Suicide is an issue that is very sad and does need to be addressed in society and our school systems. However, those lives are lost at their own hands. They may have felt that there was no other way and that they just could not live with the situations they were in. But when someone takes another’s life, that is not suicide, that is murder. The victim does not have a say in whether they live or die, the murderer does. That is the difference between death threats and suicide thoughts. Please do not classify them in the same bucket. I really can not believe that you think innocent people should die: at least that is what is being implied by your message. Would you “own” up to something that you did not do? How can we ask the teachers to do that if they did not “do” as they have been accused? I am just asking that people look at the facts and not just what is being written and stated in the media.

Timothy Kincaid
January 5th, 2011 | LINK

Teri,

Let me address your assertions one at a time:

I think that there are two sides to every story. How do we know that the kid was not lying about what was said to him?

Because two separate investigations found corroborating support.

I in no way shape or form condone bullying or any type of abuse. If these statements were true and had been documented after full investigation by the proper authorities, then I too would have to agree that those teachers should be punished at least lose their jobs and teaching licenses.

They were documented after full investigation,

However, those comments that the author Timothy Kincaid quoted are not fully verified by the state.

Those were direct quotes from the Minnesota Department of Human Rights report.

The teachers were never questioned, the majority of the students in the classroom were not questioned, and most importantly of all, the kid (now an adult) was not questioned appropriately.

Considering that you are factually wrong on everything else you have said, I’ll not give you the benefit of the doubt on this.

My point is that there is a legal system out there to protect ALL citizens. I believe that the author did not take in to consideration all the facts, because all of the facts have not yet been published.

But enough have been published to know the character of the people you are defending.

I also wonder why a picture of the “victim” has not been published in this article as pictures of the teachers have.

As you put “victim” in scare quotes, it’s clear that you have no empathy for a student that was bullied by adults.

I also want to speak to the comments made by Mihangel apYrs. Suicide is an issue that is very sad and does need to be addressed in society and our school systems. However, those lives are lost at their own hands.

You are a very evil person.

They may have felt that there was no other way and that they just could not live with the situations they were in. But when someone takes another’s life, that is not suicide, that is murder.

Nine students in this school district committed suicide within the past year alone. Four were directly linked to anti-gay bullying.

At the point in which you see a problem, when it becomes clear that bullying leads to death, and you do nothing to stop the bullying, you are morally complicit in the death.

The victim does not have a say in whether they live or die, the murderer does. That is the difference between death threats and suicide thoughts.

The only “death threats” in this story come from your claims. Frankly, you are not a credible source.

Please do not classify them in the same bucket. I really can not believe that you think innocent people should die:

no, but clearly you do, provided it’s “at their own hands”

at least that is what is being implied by your message. Would you “own” up to something that you did not do? How can we ask the teachers to do that if they did not “do” as they have been accused?

Sure. Except that they did. As two separate investigations found.

I am just asking that people look at the facts and not just what is being written and stated in the media.

We have looked at the facts. We also see you coming here with a big pile of excuses and red herrings and nonsense.

From what you write it is EXTREMELY clear that you care nothing whatsoever about children being bullied by teachers. You care nothing about the suicide rate in this district.

You only care that these two teacher be given a pass to continue tormenting other children that they suspect of being gay. What an amazing level of evil you must have in your heart.

Anna
January 6th, 2011 | LINK

Just want you to know that soon the real truth will come out. Today three students from that class had lunch with Mr. Filson and are willing to tell the truth about what happened in that class. Also the other co-teacher who taught side by side with Mr. Filson has been waiting for the real Trial and he will tell what he knows as the truth. He also is a retired police officer with Brooklyn Park and no one has ever bothered to spek to him either. I wouldn’t want to be in the liars kids shoes when all the truth comes out. He should run for cover because he will be exposed for the liar he is. Mr. Filson has people who really are gay that are his friends who are not happy with the liar , Alex.

Teri
January 6th, 2011 | LINK

Timothy Kincaid:
I want to thank you for tearing apart my comments bit by bit and making accusations and assumptions about me just as you did in your article about the teachers. You have now verified your immaturity lack of journalistic gifts. You keep saying the facts were verified, but neither you nor I were there and all the parties that were have not yet been questioned, so how can the facts even be close to verified. By telling me I am an evil person for wanting the truth and not just lies is absurd and out of line. Never did I come up with any excuses or nonsense. I never once stated that people should have the right to bully and make other’s lives miserable. Maybe all this energy should be put forth to finding the truth and not tearing down innocent people whom are just trying to get facts about a deeply disturbing case. You do not know if I am male, female, gay or straight. You do not know if I am your neighbor or even a friend. You do not know if I work near you or if I am an acquaintance of the “victim”. In fact, you don’t even know if I happen to be a state worker investigating this case. All you know is that there is an issue with bullying, and that this issue is causing many suicides in Minnesota and all over the country. I can’t disagree with you on that point, but I do disagree on most of the other statements you have made. To keep this as an amicable debate rather than a forum to attack people’s beliefs, we will have to agree to disagree. I too think that you are also not a credible source. You have made some pretty stong determinations about my feelings, belifs, and thoughts. Again, please do not judge until you know all the facts.

Timothy Kincaid
January 6th, 2011 | LINK

Anna,

Thank you for the update on your husband’s trial. And I’m quite sure that the students who met with your husband today over lunch will readily confirm whatever it is that he wants them to say.

Please feel free to update us as you wish.

Timothy

Priya Lynn
January 6th, 2011 | LINK

Teri, out of the hundreds of stories in the news about one person abusing another the only one that you and Anna want to question the truth of is the one where a person is accused of anti-gay bullying. That shows you come to this right off the bat with a bias against gays. Spare us the talk about how the all the facts aren’t in and you want the truth. When you put victim in quotes its pretty clear you’ve already decided yourself that person isn’t really a victim and you don’t give a damn about what the facts are.

Teri
January 7th, 2011 | LINK

Priya Lynn:
Grow up! What about youself? How come the only case you are willing to comment on is a case where nothing has been proven. This indicates that you are biased against truth and justice. I have never said I have a bias against gays. In fact, there is no evidence that I myself am not gay. The reason that I put victim in quotes is simply because the case has not gone to trial to prove the facts. I hope that you are never accused of a horrible crime that you did not commit and are judged before all the facts are in. Because if you are, you will then see how important the legal system is and how important “innocent until proven guilty” is in any case whether or not a gay person is involved or not.

Timothy Kincaid
January 7th, 2011 | LINK

Teri,

In addition to your hostility, you seem to have an abundance of ignorance.

1. Priya Lynn comments on virtually EVERYTHING that is brought up at this blogsite.

2. Filson is suing the school, not the other way around. He is the one who is “accusing” the school district and specifically of releasing the results of the investigation. In this case, it is the school district that is innocent until proven guilty. Funny how that works, huh?

3. The school has conducted its investigation – as has the state – and its determinations are in.

4. Keep up with the “you don’t know” line and I’ll release exactly what I do know. Remember, your IP address tells a good deal more than you may wish that it did.

Priya Lynn
January 7th, 2011 | LINK

Teri, people who are gay never say “there is no evidence that I am not gay”, they just say “I am gay”. As a member of the LGBT community it is natural for stories about LGBTs to interest me. You are not a member of this community and as such your being drawn to this story to attack the victim strongly suggests you are only interested in it to deny the abuse of LGBTs. You say “The reason that I put victim in quotes is simply because the case has not gone to trial to prove the facts.”. That might be believable if you hadn’t already asserted that the victim was a liar, thus making a mockery of your admonition to us to “not judge before you know all the facts”.

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