Anoka-Hennepin school lawsuit talks 'productive'

  • Article by: PAUL LEVY
  • Star Tribune
  • August 23, 2011 - 10:00 PM

Talks described as "productive" and "constructive" were held Tuesday on a pair of lawsuits filed against the Anoka-Hennepin School District alleging harassment of students based on sexual orientation.

Representatives of the Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights (NCLR) met in St. Paul with representatives from the state's largest school district. Magistrate Judge Steven Rau presided.

Tuesday evening, the parties issued a joint statement saying there had been "productive talks toward resolution of the claims alleged in these two lawsuits. All parties look forward to future constructive dialogue."

The statement went on to say no further comments would be made by any of the parties because of the confidential nature of the process.

The two suits, filed on behalf of six students by the two organizations, allege that students endured slurs, were stabbed with pencils, shoved into walls and lockers, punched, called names and urinated on by classmates because of real or perceived sexual orientation.

The initial suit claims that the school district's response was "grossly inadequate," and that administrators told the students to "lay low," "ignore" the harassment and "stay out of people's way." District officials said they have anti-bullying policies that address the issues.

The suits also seek repeal of the district's sexual orientation curriculum policy, commonly called the "neutrality" policy. The policy allows teachers to discuss sexual orientation issues but requires them to remain neutral. It also says such issues are better discussed at home.

Advocates for gay-lesbian-bisexual-transgender (GLBT) students argue that it allows harassment of GLBT students to continue. District officials say the policy is appropriate because residents are divided on GLBT issues.

On Monday night, the Parents Action League, a citizens group, presented an online petition supporting the policy at a district school board meeting. It bore 1,052 signatures.

"We think this is an excellent policy that honors the rights of all parents to discuss with their children these issues based on their own values and beliefs," said Laurie Thompson, the league's chairwoman. "We urge you to keep the existing policy in place and leave the controversial social issues out of the classrooms but at home where they belong."

In July, two GLBT student advocates presented the board with online petitions bearing more than 12,000 names from around the world opposing the neutrality policy.

Staff writer Daarel Burnette contributed to this report. Paul Levy • 612-673-4419

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