It is with pleasure and regret that today we announce a major settlement for safer schools in the Anoka-Hennepin school district of Minnesota – pleasure that these students are now safer but regret that this suit needed to be brought at all.
We have all been watching the news; we heard the school district defend its “neutrality policy” and we saw the parents and students speak out against the intense bullying and harassment. Family Equality Council, with the Safe Schools 4 All Coalition, has been working at the state level in Minnesota to develop comprehensive safer schools laws and policies that would make it clear that “neutrality” is not sufficient to protect students against bullying and harassment.
More than a year ago, six Anoka-Hennepin students decided that enough was enough. With representation by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights, they sued the school district, claiming that the district’s “neutrality policy” encouraged bullying and prevented students and staff from standing up for LGBT students. Yesterday, the Department of Justice and the Department of Education announced that they had reached a settlement with the school district – a landmark settlement challenging the notion that anyone can really be “neutral” in the face of bullying and harassment.
The settlement requires the Anoka-Hennepin school district to make the following changes, among others:
- Develop and implement a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment at the middle and high schools;
- Retain an expert consultant in the area of sex-based harassment to review the district’s policies and procedures concerning harassment;
- Improve its training of faculty, staff and students on sex-based harassment;
- Hire or appoint a Title IX coordinator to ensure proper implementation of the district’s sex-based harassment policies and procedures and district compliance with Title IX;
- Retain an expert consultant in the area of mental health to address the needs of students who are victims of harassment;
- Provide for other opportunities for student involvement and input into the district’s ongoing anti-harassment efforts.
Thanks to the bravery of the students who stepped forward to challenge the status quo, their peers will be safer in their classrooms and teachers will be empowered to step forward and end bullying and harassment against LGBT students. And thanks to our partners and colleagues – the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the Department of Justice, the Department of Education, and others – we can say loudly and clearly: we will not be “neutral” in the face of bullying and harassment!