Education is the great equalizer. Yet students cannot learn if they are afraid to go to school. Students cannot learn if they are being harassed and threatened. Students cannot learn if they feel that school administrators don’t and won’t protect them.
In the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota, the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education investigated whether the learning environment in the schools was unsafe and unwelcoming for students who did not conform to gender stereotypes, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students. Some students were afraid to go to school because they were repeatedly harassed. Some students faced threats, physical violence, derogatory language, and other forms of harassment on a daily basis. As a result, some students stopped attending school for periods of time, dropped out, and even contemplated or attempted suicide.
On Monday, the Departments of Justice and Education, together with six student plaintiffs and the Anoka-Hennepin School District, filed a proposed Consent Decree in federal court that resolves claims of sex-based harassment in middle and high schools in the District through the creation of a safe, nurturing learning environment for all students. The Consent Decree, approved by the judge on Tuesday, provides a comprehensive blueprint for sustainable reform that will enhance the District’s policies, training, and other efforts to ensure that every student in the District is free from sex-based harassment. The Consent Decree will build on the District’s existing anti-harassment efforts to help to create an environment where all students feel safe in school and from harassment, and can be themselves.
The Departments are especially grateful to the courageous students who came forward in this case and provided invaluable insights that strengthened the Decree. It explicitly provides opportunities for student participation in the District’s ongoing anti-harassment efforts.
Bullying cannot be a rite of passage in our nation’s schools. Instead, our schools must be safe and nurturing environments that promote learning and full participation by all students. Bullying, sexual harassment and gender stereotyping of any student, including LGBT students, have no place in our nation’s schools. We must work to stop those abusive behaviors when they take place, repair their harmful effects and prevent them from happening in the future.
Through the Consent Decree, it is our hope that Anoka-Hennepin, Minnesota’s largest school District educating nearly 40,000 students in 37 schools, will become a model for other school Districts in its efforts to address sex-based and other types of prohibited harassment.
Additional information about the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department, including copies of the press release and the Consent Decree, is available on its website at www.justice.gov/crt.
Additional information about the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Minnesota is available on its website at www.justice.gov/usao/mn.
Additional information about the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights is available on its website at www2.ed.gov/ocr.
Tom Perez is Assistant Attorney General for Civil Rights at the Department of Justice and Russlynn Ali is Assistant Secretary of Education for Civil Rights at the Department of Education.