NCTE commends an agreement announced yesterday between the federal government, six Minnesota students, and Minnesota’s Anoka-Hennepin School District to resolve lawsuits stemming from school bullying. The agreement includes numerous commitments by the school district to new policies, procedures, training and other actions to prevent and respond to bullying based on gender identity, gender expression and sexual orientation.
The student plaintiffs, represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center together with pro bono private counsel, complained of a long-running pattern of severe harassment and abuse based on their gender nonconformity and sexual orientation. The students charged that teachers and administrators did little to respond, and a discriminatory gag policy prohibiting staff from discussing LGBT-related issues contributed to their inaction. The US Departments of Justice and Education, acting under their authority to address gender-based discrimination and harassment in schools, undertook an investigation of the school district and ultimately participated in the settlement. Last month, the school district eliminated its harmful so-called “neutrality” policy, and the settlement agreement makes clear that school staff must address harassment and may affirm the dignity and worth of LGBT students. According to the agreement, which now must be approved by a judge, the district must develop a comprehensive plan to prevent future harassment, and must also compensate the student plaintiffs.
This settlement, like other LGBT bullying cases the Departments of Justice and Education have been involved in, represents a significant step forward in addressing discrimination and harassment against LGBT and gender nonconforming students nationwide. School districts should take notice from this case and others like it that the targeting of students for abuse because of their gender identity, gender nonconformity or sexual orientation must not be tolerated. There are common-sense steps every school district can take to prevent and respond to anti-LGBT bullying and avoid ending up in court.
NCTE encourages schools and school districts to adopt model policies on bullying and harassment such as those developed by the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) and NCTE. We also encourage anyone facing gender-based discrimination or harassment to know their rights and file a complaint with the US Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights.