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The Real Tragedy Of It All…

by Mark My Words on March 13, 2012 · 1 comment

“Stop wasting the tax payers money!” It seems that the phrase is always coming from the GOP.  But in really – it’s a sentiment that everybody has in common – regardless of the color of our stripes.  The Republicans say it repeatedly to infer that it’s only the Democrats who do it.  But no, everybody is guilty, ehem – “regardless of the color of our stripes”.

Let’s try again.

….Unless you’ve been living under a rock or South America some place, you’ve probably heard about Anoka-Hennepin County School District;  which is, by the way, Minnesota’s largest populated school-district.  The lawsuit has been settled and the District was “sent to bed without any supper.”  It serves them right.  You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to have the foresight that they going to lose that battle.
Now let’s imagine that for just a second.  …Because “Sue” is perceived by her classmates to be gay, she’s bombarded with harassment.  Day after day, hour after hour, Sue gets harassed from the moment she darkens the school door until relief comes at the end of the day.  And looking for help or assistance of any kind, Sue’s teachers are forced to ignore it and let Sue continue to be humiliated.  It didn’t matter what the teachers, or the librarians or the secretaries heard or saw what the other kids were doing or saying – the rule was: They will do nothing.  That was the rule and obeying the rules is what gave each and every school-board employee at Anoka-Hennepin School District had to do to keep their jobs.  It was their pay-check in exchange for their silence.

What kind of monsters would make up rules like this? Is it “school”, a place of learning? Or is it “Hell”?

Yes – six suicides in two years people, and the Anoka-Hennipen School Board sat back and did nothing.  Not a damned thing.  Now, on the surface, there were attempts to re-direct bullying kids.  Instead of the teachers being able to intervene, the bullies were sent to “counselors” and if the bullied kid looked a frustrated or depressed, they were sent to the school counselors.  

It’s an embarrassment for the State of Minnesota.  Let’s be serious and let’s be honest for a second.  We would elect people to be in charge of our children’s education and when our kids get harassed and bullied, those people in charge turn a blind-eye to it. It’s embarrassing that Minnesota’s children would rather kill themselves in exchange of going to school just one more day.

The district offered all kinds of “attempts” at showing they were, indeed, busily doing something!  But what they were doing, obviously wasn’t being very effective.

The students eventually figured out how to fight back and they did.  A student named Robin Mavis founded GET, or Gay Equality Team.  On January 28, 2011, GET filed a lawsuit against the district.  The second lawsuit came five months later on May 24th (PDF) in the form of a letter from the National Center of Lesbian Rights and the Southern Poverty Law Center sent directly to Dennis Carlson, the school district’s superintendent.

OutFront Minnesota said:

“The complaint that was filed detailed findings that students in the district were subject to a hostile environment, had faced severe and pervasive harassment, and that the District knew that their responses to the harassment were inadequate because the harassment continued and, in some cases, even escalated.”

By the time all was said and done, two law firms, the US Department of Justice and the US Department of Education, the Southern Poverty Law Center,  The National Center for Lesbian Rights and Out Front Minnesota  were all on GET’s team demanding immediate changes.  And last week, they finally got it.

US District Judge Joan Ericksen signed off on the lawsuit and it was a whopper.  

The short-version:

  1. Anoka-Hennepin School District will put on a retainer, the Great Lakes Equity Center based on out Indiana University-Purdue for a fully vetted review of the district’s policy towards gay, lesbian and tarns-gendered students. The Center was fingered by the U.S. Dept of Education toward principle investigator, Kathleen King Thorius and operations director Donna Hart-Tervalon.
  2. Anoka-Hennepin School District has agreed to fully investigate all reports of harassment, escalate cases as warranted and mitigate those “stubborn cases”.
  3. Address hostile environments as perceived by GLBT students.
  4. Develop notifications for the parents of those students being harassed while protecting their privacy on such matters.
  5. There’s a new Title Program being introduced called “Title IX” via the Anoka-Hennepin County School District.  The district must hire an “harassment-prevention” official to lead the district’s efforts protect all students from harassment and bullying.  The Title IX coordinator’s role will with with the Equality Center at Perdue University in Indiana and developing training guides and counselling.
  6. Mental Health coordinators will be hired, along with a strengthened anti-bulling survey.  The survey will be used as a tool to monitor attitudes and views towards students who are considered social-minorities, such as students of color, gay, lesbian or trans-gendered.
  7. The District will partner with the United States Department of Justice throughout the next five years to implement the promises contracted to the Judge.  And it will pay out $270,000 to each and every single plaintiff and their families.

money down the toiletWhere are the good citizens of Anoka who shold be complaining about the wasted taxpayer money?  The money that went to the legal teams who defended the school distrct, the money that was wasted in the court system, all of the money getting shelled out to the plaintiffs, where’s the complaints on wasted cash?  The district’s superintendent thought ignoring kids who are getting bullied in school was just fine and he demanded his staff and teachers ignore it too and look at the giant whooosh of cash flying out the window and not a peep!

Where are the parents of the Anoka Hennipen School District who’ve done little to nothing about the loss of six young lives because of the biggest bully in that district, Dennis Carlson?

There’s the real tragedy.

To everybody that reads this, I want each person to know:  There is a GLBT teen-suicide hot-line in this country called The Trevor Project.  One of the highest rate of teen suicide is with gay, lesbian, bisexual kids, and non-gay kids who are perceived or thought to be gay.  And, among that demographic, the largest percentage of those kids are in rural areas every where throughout the United States and Canada.  They’re alone, isolated, terrified, confused and they have nobody to talk to about it.  Support The Trevor Project and be sure everybody you know is aware of it.

The counselors who talk to those kids on the phone are limited to only a few weeks before being pulled off the phones to avoid burnout.  When they’re not on the phones, they’re developing curriculum guides and mapping out logistics to send counselors to aid schools, teachers and students on the subject of teen suicide with GLBT kids.

They do extremely good work and they deserve the support.

There’s also GLBT activist Dan Savage who’s started the “It Gets Better” campaign that deserves mentioning and your support.
This can not ever happen again.  

Never again in Minnesota.

Bill Prendergast March 13, 2012 at 11:38 pm

…this was going to be my item today–the school board’s decision to settle the homophobe bullying lawsuits, the costs to the community…

…great piece you did on it.

The only things I’d add:

–The national Rolling Stone piece on Anoka-Hennepin war against guys had to be a factor in the district’s decision to cave. Press attention–embarrassing press attention to the politics of hate–sends the politics of hate into remission.

–Some local people inside the district implement the politics of hate that create homophobia and bullying and eventually suicide. But national forces (political leaders of the religious right) design the politics of hate, and promote it in conservative evangelical politics and media.

That means that this isn’t going away. The politics of hate will just be re-tooled inside the district. And the national guys who drive the conservative evangelical politics of hate don’t care that there’s a huge financial cost to a district for implementing politics of hate.

The damages are not coming out of their pockets, it’s coming out of local taxpayer pockets.

As far as these national guys (and their local proteges) are concerned–the taxpayers and schools can keep paying damages forever, the climate of homophobia is a good thing, the bullying should be tolerated so long as it’s bullying of gay kids, and they couldn’t care less if some Minnesota kids kill themselves.

It’s really no skin off their backs, they know that their political influence (and sometimes their income) depends on keeping bigotry alive and well.

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