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Minnesota District Under Investigation Over Bullying

From Guest Blogger Nirvi Shah:

Another school district is in the cross hairs of the federal departments of Education and Justice because of how it handled, or didn't, the harassment and bullying of students.

Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin school district created a policy two years ago that says if the subject of sexual orientation comes up in class, teachers must take a neutral stance on the topic. That policy was followed by a complaint by a parent that two teachers had harassed her son because they thought he was gay. Eventually, the 40,000-student school district paid $25,000 to settle a lawsuit over the matter.

In addition, Minnesota Public Radio reported that seven students in the district committed suicide between 2009 and 2010, and at least some of the students were gay and had been victims of bullying and harassment.

Near the end of the year, Anoka-Hennepin's superintendent, Dennis Carlson, sent teachers a voice mail message saying none of the suicides had to do with bullying.

Now, the federal departments of Education and Justice are investigating.

The federal civil rights investigation began last fall, Xochitl Hinojosa, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice, told Education Week. Today, CNN reported that it had a document from the school district confirming the investigation.

This is at least the second investigation of its kind since the Education Department's Office of Civil Rights sent school districts letters outlining their responsibilities in cases of bullying.

In Anoka-Hennepin, the case that spawned the sexual neutrality policy involved a high school student taking classes Anoka Technical College who was harassed by two teachers during the 2007-08 school year, according to the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

One of the teachers singled out the student almost daily in the presence of other students, saying his "boat floats in a different direction than the rest of the guys in the class," and his "fence swings both ways," the report said.

The teacher shared her comments with another teacher who repeated the remarks, added jokes, and allowed other students to joke about the boy's perceived sexual orientation, the report said.

A survey by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network in 2009 found that Minnesota schools were not safe for these students, and many did not have have access to important school resources, such as Gay-Straight Alliances, and were not protected by comprehensive bullying/harassment school policies.

Earlier this month, the Justice and Education departments found that the Tehachapi school district in California failed to stop or prevent a 13-year-old middle school from being repeatedly teased and bullied by his peers, violating federal discrimination and harassment laws.

To resolve the federal investigation in California, the school district agreed to revise its policies and regulations related to sexual and gender-based harassment and hire a consultant to provide mandatory trainings on sexual and gender-based harassment for all students, administrators, teachers, counselors, and other staff members who interact with students, among other things.

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