All students should be able to receive an education in an environment that is safe and inclusive. Unfortunately, many schools in the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota presented a frightening and harmful toxic environment for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) students. Many students in the district had been harassed every day by their peers because of their actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender expression. NCLR joined the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), Faegre & Benson LLP, and Culberth & Lienemann, LLP in investigating the school district after four LGBTQ students from the district died by suicide.
On May 24, 2011, NCLR and our co-counsel sent a letter to the school district demanding that it change its policies to effectively address the pervasive anti-LGBTQ atmosphere in the district’s schools. The district declined to do so, and on July 21, 2011, we filed suit against the district and school officials, on behalf of five district students, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota.
On August 9, 2011, we filed an additional lawsuit on behalf of a sixth student. The complaints in the two lawsuits describe how the students were subjected to constant anti-LGBTQ and gender-based slurs, threats, and assaults, which their schools did not protect them from. In some instances, school officials told the students who were harassed to “stay out of people’s way” and, in one instance, suggesting that a student who was being harassed leave the school because they could not protect him. One student eventually dropped out of school and attempted suicide after the emotional toll of the years of constant harassment became too much to bear. The lawsuit asserted that the district’s policies and its failure to protect LGBTQ students from harassment violated the students’ rights under the United States Constitution, Title IX, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
On March 5, 2012, NCLR and our co-counsel announced that the six student plaintiffs had entered into a consent decree with the school district to resolve the complaints brought against the district. The agreement also resolved an investigation of harassment in district schools by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Department of Education (DOE), along with a related complaint filed against the district by the DOJ.
The consent decree included significant new protections designed to prevent harassment of students who are or perceived to be lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT), and gender non-conforming, as well as those who have friends or parents who are LGBT. The decree also included a comprehensive, systemic plan to counter and prevent future harassment in district education programs and activities.