Thursday, July 21, 2011

School District with Sexual Orientation "Neutrality" Policy Targeted by Lawsuit and Investigation

The Anoka-Hennepin School District is the only district in Minnesota with a curriculum policy that requires teachers and staff to remain "neutral" on sexual orientation issues, deferring instead to students' "family homes, churches, and community organizations" to disseminate attitudes and information about homosexuality.

Two major civil rights organization, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center, have sued the district on behalf of LGBT student plaintiffs who experienced harassment and discrimination at Anoka-Hennepin schools. They argue that the neutrality policy amounts to gag-order that contributes to a hostile environment for LGBT students by rendering teachers ineffective at dealing with LGBT harassment when it occurs and at laying a foundation of inclusion and appreciation for diverse sexual orientations that could prevent harassment of LGBT students in the first place. They argue that the policy singles out LGBT students for exclusion in violation of the federal Constitution's Equal Protection Clause, Title IX, and the Minnesota Human Rights Statute.

Meanwhile, the Justice Department and the Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights are investigating allegations that Anoka-Hennepin School District is responsible for bullying and harassment motivated by students' failure to conform to gender stereotypes in violation of Title IX. Four students have committed suicide in recent years in apparent reaction to such harassment, though reports suggest it is not clear whether suicides or the district's sexual orientation "neutrality" policy are part of the investigation.

How Anoka-Hennpin's policy fares in court and in this government investigation could affect other states with restrictions on teaching about homosexuality. Reportedly, these states include Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah, while Tennessee considered such legislation earlier this year.