(CBS/WCCO/AP) CHAMPLIN, Minn. - Five students in Minnesota's Anoka-Hennepin School District are suing the district, alleging it allows an environment hostile toward students who are either gay, or are perceived to be.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the students by the Southern Poverty Law Center, the National Center for Lesbian Rights and Faegre & Benson, claiming the five were targets of harassment within the district, reports CBS affiliate WCCO.
The lawsuit was announced just a day after it was revealed federal investigators have been looking into complaints of harassment and bullying at Anoka-Hennepin since last fall. It cites the policy that requires staff to remain neutral when sexual orientation is discussed in the classroom, saying that prevents teachers from effectively protecting kids perceived as gay from bullying and harassment.
Last October, the district had changed its anti-bullying and harassment policies after six students committed suicide in the span of a year and a half. The district's own investigation found no evidence that bullying contributed to the deaths. But some family members and advocates disagreed.
"We are disappointed that the district fails to see the serious harm this policy is causing its students," said Sam Wolfe, the head attorney behind the lawsuit, reports WCCO. "School and district officials who are entrusted with the safety and education of all students continue to ignore, minimize, dismiss, and even blame victims for the abusive behavior of other students."The students want a judge to block the policy and award them damages.
"There is something seriously wrong in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, and district officials know it," said Kate Kendell, executive director for the National Center for Lesbian Rights, reports the station. "This epidemic of harassment -- unlike anything we've seen in neighboring districts -- is plainly fueled by the district's shameful and illegal policy singling out LGBT people and LGBT people alone for total exclusion from acknowledgement within the classroom."
The lawsuit says the district's "gag policy" has prohibited staff members from offering support to GLBT students, or to even acknowledge their existence. The legal team behind the lawsuit claims that policy of neutrality led to an environment where in certain students' rights were violated.