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Anoka-Hennepin School District sued. Finally!

Timothy Kincaid

July 21st, 2011

The Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota has a “neutrality” policy on the subject of homosexuality.

    Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions.

But while “neutrality” may sound like a fair and balanced approach, in this school district it is little more than implicit permission to torture. Because in addition to neutrality on student led discussions, the district is neutral about anti-gay bullying.

That’s not “neutrality”.

Neutrality presumes that rather than takes sides, one stays out of conflicts that really aren’t one’s business. It implies that there is no real victim and oppressor, just a difference of opinion. And neutrality is only ever a virtue when there is no clear moral imperative to act.

But when there is an open environment of consistent bullying of gay kids, you have a moral imperative. I don’t care what faith or code of ethics you live by, all good and decent people agree that adults have an obligation to protect children in their care from torture. There is no “neutral” position on that.

But when it comes to anti-gay bullying in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, the teachers are afraid to act. They know that anything that suggests an opinion on matters “best addressed” by the local preacher can result in reprimand. And it is common understanding that even acknowledging that gay people exist is a violation of policy.

And lest there be any uncertainty, until overwhelming pressure forced a change, the anti-bullying policy excluded any mention of sexual orientation. So there’s little for a teacher to gain by saying, for example, “stop picking on gay kids, they are no different than you” and there are no words that discourage using slurs that don’t also take a non-neutral position on whether gay people deserve public contempt and humiliation.

So teachers ask themselves if it’s worth it. And wouldn’t it just make it worse if the bullies saw that the teacher was punished for trying to stop bullying? So those teachers who want to care are paralyzed and do nothing.

And the student being tormented can’t complain because while there is no policy to punish anti-gay bullies, if you report being picked on for being gay, you get sent to a psychiatrist. Lucky you, now in the hallways not only are you a “fag” but “crazy” one as well.

And this culture of homophobia didn’t just serve to restrict support or protection. Two teachers decided that not only would they not restrict anti-gay bullying, but they would join in. They mocked a student they thought was gay and “joked” that he dressed in women’s clothes and had a thing for older men. (And when they got a soft slap on the wrist, they sued claiming they had been maligned and their reputation tarnished.)

By now, those who are not familiar with this story may be starting to be suspicious. Surely it isn’t that bad; this has to by hyperbole, right?

No. The Anoka-Hennepin School District really is that bad.

And they must know it. How could they not?

But they are determined to ignore the problem.

The Minnesota State Department of Human Rights stepped in over the abusive teacher issue and did an investigation. But although they rebuked the School Board, this did not seem to influence their position.

And after nine suicides in one year, they still saw no evidence of a problem. It wasn’t until one student’s death caught national attention that the School Board felt a need to respond and the response illustrated their determination to do nothing to stop the bullying of gay students.

“None of the suicides were connected to incidents of bullying,” said Supt. Dennis Carlson

“As we all try to heal from the pain of these deaths the continuation of inaccurate information is not helpful,” he said. “Once again we have no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our students deaths. In a few instances, people told the school board and district leaders that employees stood by while a student was bullied. These statements are also not true. We have no evidence of that occurring.”

And as for the distraught parents, the horrified friends, and the concerned teachers who reported that their these kids had been subjected to abuse until it became unbearable? Oh, they “weren’t truthful.”

Even an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights can’t persuade this school board to adopt the homosexual agenda. (You know, the one which says that public school should not be a place of officially sanctioned torture for gay kids.)

So finally the Southern Poverty Law Center has had enough. (SPLC)

The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) today sued the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, challenging the pervasive anti-gay harassment in the district’s schools as well as a “gag policy” that prevents teachers from discussing issues related to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) people.

The lawsuit was filed on behalf of five students who have faced severe anti-LGBT bullying and harassment in school. It charges that the district’s gag policy perpetuates the abuses suffered by these students and others.

I think that a positive outcome is almost a foregone conclusion. Considering the death count, the testimony, and the evidence that the policy and attitude of this School Board contributes to a culture of abuse, I can’t imagine that even a socially conservative judge would side with this school board. It’s hard to convince a judge that things are just fine when you have nine teenage suicides on your watch.

So I’m pretty confident that the district will be forced to change its policy. And some teachers will feel free to step in and protect bullied gay kids, knowing that the federal judicial system can protect them if they suffer reprisal. It will get better.

But it will be a long long time before things are good for gay kids in the Anoka-Hennepin School District.

Comments

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MEP
July 22nd, 2011 | LINK

As a Minnesotan, we’ve been watching this one brew for quite some time and I’m thrilled to see the SPLC come forward. I hope the outcome is positive.

It is worth noting, I believe, that this school district is smack dab in the middle of Michele Bachmann’s district.

Probably not so surprising when you think about it.

BlackDog
July 22nd, 2011 | LINK

I have a lot of family in MN (My grandpa’s relatives, Mostly in the northern part of the state) and while a lot of them are conservative most of them are pretty easygoing and none of them act like THAT.

What the hell is the Anoka-Hennepin school district’s malfunction? Are they typical of the people there? For her part Michelle Bachmann is completely the opposite of most people I know from MN (although to be fair none of those people are Evangelicals or even particularly religious) Is the crazy in the state just that concentrated in the Minneapolis suburbs??

Priya Lynn
July 22nd, 2011 | LINK

I am struck by their callous response to the suicides of nine students. Rather than being eager to consider all the reason’s why this might have happened their first priority is to deny bullying had anything to do with it despite it being so pervasive in schools.

Bigots like to claim they’re not haters, but what else other than hate can explain their willingness to put a higher priority on denying gays help than on lives themselves?

Regan DuCasse
July 22nd, 2011 | LINK

Here is what I don’t understand. Schools are OBLIGATED to teach the FACTS on human history, biology,sociology and reserve the right to encourage teaching young people how to treat each other properly and navigate all inevitable encounters they might have in their lives.

Especially in schools where the student body and campus is small and there is less shelter from invasion and abuse.

Considering how eagerly the anti gay invoke 1st amendment rights and assert they will be punished BY whatever they express: it’s considerable hypocrisy to hinder or silence a SCHOOL’S ability to function fully and optimize a child’s education and social adjustment.

We can point to irrefutable evidence that such restrictions are harmful and puts young people at risk.

There is NO evidence that teaching children the realities, especially of controversial issues, does them any harm. And there is evidence they are helped by being fully informed by truthful information.
Since when does prejudice, fear, hysteria and stereotypes against a group EVER been a good thing in an educational setting?

A school has FAR more 1st amendment rights here, I would think. As does any child has the right to an education that betters their lives.

Reed Boyer
July 22nd, 2011 | LINK

A hugely frustrating factor in all of this is that Reuters and the Wall Street Journal both report FOUR suicides from students who were either LGBT or “bullied as if LGBT,” but only Justin Aaberg’s name seems to have been out there until this past week when Samantha Jean Johnson’s case was referenced by CNN as part of its reporting on this lawsuit.

Timothy (TRiG)
July 23rd, 2011 | LINK

Over here, there’s a crime of “reckless endangerment”. I suspect something similar exists over there. Sounds to me like these people are guilty of it.

TRiG.

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