Friday, March 9, 2012

Anoka-Hennepin District Issues Decree, Promises to Improve School Climate

On March 5th Anoka-Hennepin School District voted 5-1 in favor of entering into a consent decree with six student plaintiffs and the federal government. The decree resolves a federal civil rights investigation and lawsuit filed last summer by six former and current students, who asserted that the school district had not adequately responded to harassment allegations based on perceived sexual orientation and gender identity. “All students deserve a safe learning environment,” said Superintendent Dennis Carlson, “and the District is looking forward to continuing to broaden and strengthen its commitment to provide anti-harassment and anti-bullying programs."

The decree includes monetary compensation for the six students as well as a five-year partnership between Anoka-Hennepin School District, the Department of Justice, and the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights. Under the terms of the consent decree, the district must:

  • Retain an Equality Consultant who will review existing policies and procedures.
  • Develop and implement a plan for preventing and addressing sexually-based discrimination cases in the future for middle and high schools.
  • Enhance training for staff and students on the topic.
  • Retain a mental health consultant to address needs of students.
  • Work with consultant to identify "hot spots" where harassment is most problematic.

The full list of requirements can be read on the district’s announcement.

“The parties believe this agreement provides a roadmap for others to follow as they address the difficult societal problem of bullying and harassment related to sexual orientation,” the school district’s announcement read, “Anoka-Hennepin takes seriously its responsibility in pioneering training, practices, and procedures to ensure a safe learning environment for all students.”

"This partnership will strengthen the support that the district provides to all students, including students who are gay or perceived to be gay," says school board chairman Tom Heidemann. "At the end of the day, the board would rather focus our limited resources on educating kids and keeping them safe… [the agreement] likely saved the district millions of dollars and many years of ongoing litigation."

"If it were not for [the student's] courage and determination to tell their stories and stand up and say, 'Enough, I deserve better; we all deserve better,' we would not be on the precipice of not only creating change in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, but also proving a model for change nationally," said Michael McGee, father of plaintiff Damien McGee-Backes.

Plaintiff Dylon Frei, a freshman at Anoka High School, said he hadn't been bullied in about a month and a half so far: "That has never happened before. I see change coming, and I'm really glad about it."