Anoka-Hennepin school board readies a vote on bullying decree

  • Article by: MARIA ELENA BACA , Star Tribune
  • Updated: March 2, 2012 - 11:05 PM

Talk of a consent decree for review Monday is latest sign that bullying suit is near a settlement.

The chairman of the Anoka-Hennepin school board said Friday "there's likely to be a consent decree to vote on" at Monday's board meeting, a further signal that a resolution may be near to the bullying-related lawsuit that's been in mediation since August.

Neither Tom Heidemann nor other district officials nor the attorney for the plaintiffs would confirm that a settlement has been reached or provide details about the most recent round of talks this week.

However, Heidemann also said he expects to hold a short news conference after the vote on the consent decree, provided it happens.

The lawsuit was filed last summer on behalf of six current and former students who said the district did not adequately address complaints of severe and persistent bullying and harassment based on sexual orientation. Last fall, U.S. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau put all of the parties to the lawsuit under a gag order for the duration of the talks.

The issues of bullying and sexual orientation have put the district under an international media spotlight, including critical accounts from the New York Times, CNN and Rolling Stone magazine.

The district has made changes in the past year, including dropping its Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy, which required teachers to be neutral when issues of sexual orientation came up in the classroom. That policy, whose repeal was sought by the lawsuit, was replaced last month by a Respectful Learning Environment Policy; the new policy does not focus on a single group, but it requires the teaching staff to present contentious issues in a way that does not "persuade students to adopt or reject any particular viewpoint."

The lawsuit referred to the neutrality policy as a "gag policy," which contributed to an environment that tolerated the bullying and harassment of students who are gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, or who are perceived to be.

Replacing it was a months-long process; one proposal was rejected because of widespread public opposition. Debate was often contentious, revealing divisions between advocates for GLBT students and supporters of the old policy, who feared that removing it would open a door to "gay activists" who seek to take their agenda to the classroom.

The district also has adopted a new bullying and harassment policy, added to its counseling staff and built up its antibullying training and programming.

Maria Elena Baca • 612-673-4409

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