National groups demand Anoka Hennepin School District address bullying

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The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights sent a letter to the Anoka Hennepin School District on Tuesday demanding that the school district abandon its “neutrality policy,” which bars discussion of LGBT issues in district schools, and step up efforts to address bullying and harassment.

The district has been at the center of a firestorm in the last year as a rash of suicides by LGBT students and reports of bullying created a sustained protest by parents in the district on both sides of the issue. In the letter, the SPLC and NCLR state that the district is violating federal law by not creating a safe educational environment and and indicate they’ll file a lawsuit if the situation is not rectified.

“While we appreciate that the District has recently taken some superficial steps to address bullying, our investigation confirms that lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (‘LGBT’) students and those perceived as LGBT within the District remain in jeopardy in a hostile and alienating environment,” the groups wrote. “School authorities’ failure to adequately respond to ongoing harassment violates established law and our clients’ constitutional rights.”

The groups referenced three current and former students who suffered relentless bullying and harassment in Anoka-Hennepin schools.

“District authorities failed to properly respond to repeated reports of verbal and physical harassment, in violation of their legal obligations,” the groups wrote. “These incidents and others like them appear to be part of a pervasive pattern of hostility against LGBT students within District schools, which has had dire consequences.”

Over the past year, reports of bullying, harassment and even suicides have put the district in the national spotlight, prompting parents, teachers and students in the district to call for change. Tammy Aaberg, whose gay son attended Anoka High School and took his own life last July, has spoken of the need to rescind the school’s “neutrality policy”.”

At the same time, a group of religious conservatives with ties to the Minnesota Family Council have pushed back, saying that no LGBT content should be included in the district. Barb Anderson, who works for the Family Council and helped found the Parents Action League, recently told an anti-gay radio host that she successfully blocked any changes to make schools safer for LGBT students.

The SPLC called the neutrality policy a “gag rule.”

“The gag policy is anything but neutral,” Sam Wolfe, lead attorney for the Southern Poverty Law Center, said in a statement on Tuesday. “It is rooted in homophobia and sustains a hostile environment harmful to all students. The District must repeal this dangerous policy.”

The letter the SPLC and NCLR sent to the Anoka-Hennepin School District is linked below.

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