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MN School District Pays Family $25K Over Anti-Gay Harassment

Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, the largest in the state, settled a complaint by the family of a high school junior who claimed he was being harassed over his perceived sexual orientation, the Star Tribune reports:

Anokastep "The boy's 'fence swings both ways,' teacher Diane Cleveland commented during a class in the 2007-2008 school year, according to an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. When the boy wrote a report on Ben Franklin, Cleveland allegedly said before the entire class that the boy had a 'thing for older men.' Another teacher, Walter Filson, said in front of other students that the boy 'enjoys wearing women's clothes.' When the boy decided to report on Abraham Lincoln, Filson allegedly said, 'Since you like your men older ...' the Human Rights report said."

The incident occurred at District 11's Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP) on the Anoka Technical College campus.The school district agreed to pay the family $25,000.

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Comments

  1. The payoff is not enought. Those teachers ought to be fired.

    Posted by: Hank | Aug 13, 2009 12:55:59 PM


  2. Geez...I wish I got $25K for every time *I* was made fun of for being gay in school!

    While I'm glad the school district is being held accountable, who decides what is an appropriate amount of money? This decision, to me, just feeds into the whole culture of suing that this country is so obsessed with. I guess I'm just jealous that I'm not getting paid off like this kid is.

    Posted by: mrmnyc | Aug 13, 2009 1:14:22 PM


  3. Seriously, 25,000? He should at least get enough to get him through a good university. That amount is clearly not enough, and I agree the teachers should have lost their jobs.

    Posted by: Critifur | Aug 13, 2009 1:15:32 PM


  4. A mere $25,000? Chump change. Those teachers were out of line and should have their licenses revoked. This is the kind of situation that encourages bullying resulting in not only physical harm but severe psychological harm as well. No, this was not satisfactory and should have been financially painful enough to send a clear message to the teachers, school and school board.

    Posted by: Bob R | Aug 13, 2009 1:24:38 PM


  5. while i agree whole heartedly that this teachers were out of line; i am sure that they are tenured. that being said - the legal fees/union issues that the school board would face for firing the teaches/revoking licenses would be astronomical ($1M+).

    i live here in minneapolis; and i am the son of two high school teachers (in wisconsin) - i fully support the idea of removing these teachers from their posts, but wanted to provide prospective of why they most likely were not/wont be.

    Posted by: Joey B | Aug 13, 2009 1:31:48 PM


  6. It's really sad... that teacher is too stupid to realize that fences don't swing, GATES swing. Sheesh.

    Posted by: Rich | Aug 13, 2009 1:39:32 PM


  7. If my teacher said that to me in class I would get up from my seat and give him a really good slap he'll never forget.

    Posted by: Jedd | Aug 13, 2009 1:59:08 PM


  8. $25K seems like plenty... I'm more worried about the teachers not getting fired. Not familiar with the union rules like JoeyB, but there shuold really be a clause in the contract that allows a school to drop ANYONE for any kind of discrimination offense. That's absurd -- this wasn't a grocer at a local supermarket saying this, it was a goddamn teacher, making it okay for everyone else in class to say it.

    I feel like any state liberal enough for teachers' unions should be liberal enough to realize how much more harm a teacher can inflict with discrimination than most anyone else.

    Posted by: rafi | Aug 13, 2009 3:15:24 PM


  9. I taught at Anoka High School for 3 years, and JoeyB is right - the teacher's union is probably the reason. Its a powerful organization.

    That said, a majority of those teachers, if they are anything like the ones I taught with, would never dream of accepting or excusing that behavior.

    Posted by: Kyle | Aug 13, 2009 4:05:09 PM


  10. I grew up in Minnesota, and this type of teacher conduct is very rare. . .most teachers are very good and create welcoming environments in their classrooms. The money wasn't enough, an apology would have been nice, and a guarantee that the teachers would receive some sensitivity training and be required to volunteer at an LGBT suicide hotline or center would have been good as well.

    Posted by: Keith | Aug 13, 2009 6:13:06 PM


  11. You can tell these teachers what you really think of their behavior:

    Diane.Cleveland@anoka.k12.mn.us

    Walter.Filson@anoka.k12.mn.us

    Per the comment thread @ Joe.My.God

    Posted by: Wheezy | Aug 13, 2009 11:00:43 PM


  12. My email:
    In just two days, I will be starting my 3rd term as a teacher student. Throughout my life, I've come across many teachers, most of them good, some of them bad. The teachers whose memory remain the clearest in my mind are the very best and very worst. Congratulations on making it into my "Hall of Shame" despite me never having studied under you.

    As teachers, we are expected to be a safe harbor, to be a shoulder to turn to for. We are expected to overcome our prejudices, whatever they may be, and provide for each student equal opportunities. Each student is to be treated alike. And each student is to be treated like a human being deserving of respect.

    It is one thing to turn a blind eye to bullying. Though disgraceful and highly punishable by law, at least the teacher would be a bystander (tacitly endorsing the bullying). But for teacher to actually engage in the bullying themselves must be one of the worst crimes one can commit as a teacher. Congratulations on making life hell for a student merely because of your bigoted hatred. I guess we should be happy you didn't bully them into suicide. Children have committed suicide over lesser taunts. Hurtful words coming out of other children, whom we expect to not be mature enough to know better is one thing. The same, or worse, coming out of the mouth of not one but two teachers, is one of the worst things that can happen to a child. If he had committed suicide, you would have no doubt been prosecuted. Silver lining or lucky break for two criminals?

    I have yet to year a word about possible firings, only that you (rightly) have been suspended (for an indefinite period of time, I hope). I therefore suspect that you are tenured and thus have job security. How wonderful life must be for you. You have possibly destroyed the life of an innocent child whose only crime it was to be different in a way which was intolerable to you and your only punishment is a possible temporary suspension. The $25,000 (pocket change) fines did not come out of your pockets. I read nothing about any kind of apologize from your sides and, if you are indeed tenured, you will not be fired. How does it feel to have commit an atrocious crime not merely against the law but also against a child and an entire community (the LGBT community) and have escaped virtually unscathed? What's a few days, weeks, months or even years worth of lost wages when compared to the life and peace of mind of the child you tormented? If you have families, your families will too suffer from your actions, as your lost wages will be lost to them and they will have to face the shame of being related to someone such as you. In fact, if you have spouses, I dearly hope they are wise enough to divorce you.

    The next time the subjects of discrimination, bigotry and/or teacher conduct comes up in discussion during seminars, I will make sure to bring up your cases. You are, indeed, disgraces to our professions and I will make sure my colleagues hear of you as examples of shame who conduct is to be abhorred.

    If there is any decency left in you, whatsoever, you will voluntarily resign your positions, but I don't expect persons capable of actions such as the ones you have exhibited to be in possession of such decency. Neither do I expect replies from you, but if you should need the need for a reply, feel free to send one to me. I will read it/them and reply in turn.

    To Walter Filson: In an interview with KSTP TV, you state that "[your] position is that the department of human rights website is that the allegations they printed are false". Which conveniently doesn't deny any wrongdoing is that you used gay slurs or taunts or bullied the child, merely that what was printed is "false", possibly just wrongful worded. You have enough decency to not blatantly lie and simply state that you are innocent of any wrongdoing, but you, apparently, do not have enough decency to admit to wrongdoing. As a middle-aged heterosexual white male, you have no doubt never or very seldom been discriminated against yourself and are thus unable to empathize with the many people who have been discriminated against. Too bad, since this lack of discrimination apparently made you into what you are today. And (I know this is "ungrammatical"), no, you are not "absolutely [fit to be a teacher]".
    To Diane Cleveland: I could not find any footage or pictures of you on Google. If they can publish photographs of alleged rapists, murders and what have you, why not photos of people such as you? At least then people such as I would now whom to shun in public. I truly hope you, like Mr. Filson are a heterosexual and Caucasian. To be anything else would be a disgrace also on your own minority. Minorities which know discrimination should feel greater empathy towards other minorities, e.g. not discriminate against them. To actually be a member of a minority and to discriminate against another minority is incomprehensible. As a woman, you are not a part of a minority, but you may still experience or at least be aware of the discrimination that women face. But to be, for instance, a person of color (any but Caucasian) and still discriminate? A double disgrace.

    Posted by: Philip Wester | Aug 15, 2009 10:41:16 AM


  13. Have any of you actually read the report that this is all based on? You do realize that the report is a non-legal finding made by a pseudo-judicial board and that the only reason the school district settled was because it would save them money? It costs a lot more than $25,000 to fight something like this in an actual court, regardless of your innocence of guilt.

    It is unfortunate that this culture of litigation has pushed us into a situation where non-legal findings can be presented as fact. Whatever happened to innocent until proven guilty? If the teachers are found guilty by a jury of their peers, then let them pay. But we should never condemn someone without them having an opportunity to defend themselves.

    Posted by: Peachey Carnehan | Aug 16, 2009 7:11:50 PM


  14. Peachey, did you hear his defense? He (Wilson) said that the accusations, as reported by the board, are false. He didn't say he was innocent or that no harassment occurred. His defense is basically "They misquoted me".

    Posted by: Philip Wester | Aug 17, 2009 12:41:33 PM


  15. I don't know much about high school teachers, but my husband is a tenured professor and I think his job would be in jeopardy for actions like this.

    Posted by: DHAnoka | Aug 25, 2010 6:25:10 AM


  16. I know this is late for here, but it just showed up on another board. Phillip Wester - what does Mr. Filson need to do? He said the allegations are false. If he said a bunch more then you would say he is protesting too much! He commented on another board and sounded eminently reasonable. One of the main points he made was that if was truly liable, the award would have been for far more than $25K. Which makes sense to me, having worked for an attorney firm. Mr. Filson did not say this, but I will: $25K is "be quiet and go away money." Now, I wasn't there, but if these teachers did all they were accused of, I don't know why the news reports are so unclear. And I do agree with Peachey, YOU Mr. Wester, jumped the gun without hearing any defense. I truly hope you get more consideration if you are ever ACCUSED of something.

    Posted by: Jaroslaw | Dec 28, 2010 12:39:51 PM


  17. sorry, what I meant by "news reports unclear" is even now, over a year later, searching this story on the net doesn't shed anymore light on it.

    Posted by: Jaroslaw | Dec 28, 2010 12:41:50 PM


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