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MN Students Sue School District Over Gay Policy

By Stephanie Rabiner, Esq. on July 22, 2011 6:44 AM

The Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) filed suit against the Anoka-Hennepin School District in a Minnesota federal court this week, arguing that the school's anti-gay policy and its alleged failure to punish anti-LGBT bullying violates the law.

This isn't the first time the district has been accused of such activity, with the Departments of Justice and Education recently opening up an investigation into similar allegations as a result of a group of gay student suicides in the last two years.

According to the SPLC, unlike other districts in Minnesota, Anoka-Hennepin School District adopted a "Sexual Orientation Curriculum Policy" that requires school staff to "remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation."

They allege that this policy prevents teachers from acknowledging the existence of LGBT students, perpetuating anti-LGBT bullying and causing school officials to take little action on behalf of the harassed and threatened.

The school district denies these allegations, stating that, while it wishes to provide its staff with better training, it believes the policy properly respects the divisive nature of LGBT issues.

Regardless, the SPLC alleges that the anti-gay policy violates the Equal Protection Clause, Title IX, and the Minnesota Human Rights Act.

It's difficult to tell just how a federal judge will rule on these arguments, as sexual orientation has not historically been a protected characteristic under equal protection analysis.

However, the U.S. Department of Education considers gay bullying to be a civil rights issue, and both the 7th and the 9th Circuit Courts of Appeal have ruled that schools must take steps to protect students from known anti-gay harassment.

Still, there doesn't appear to be any definitive authority in the 8th Circuit that would inform the Minnesota court's decision, meaning that the Anoka-Hennepin School District's gay policy may very well be legal.

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