School district to pay $25K over gay slurs, harassment

Alex MerrittMinnesota‘s largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin, has agreed to pay a family $25,000 after two teachers allegedly harassed a boy because of his perceived sexual orientation, according to the Star Tribune.

The teachers reportedly harassed the boy and subjected him to classroom jokes, comments and innuendos.

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.

The student, Alex Merritt, who is now 18, said the teachers’ comments, which he said weren’t true, spurred death threats and led him to transfer 25 miles away to Zimmerman High School, where he graduated in the spring.

According to the Human Right’s report, when Merritt wrote a report on Ben Franklin, Cleveland allegedly said before the entire class that the he had a “thing for older men.” Another teacher, Walter Filson, said in front of other students that Merritt “enjoys wearing women’s clothes, ” and when he reported on Abraham Lincoln, Filson allegedly said, “Since you like your men older …” the report said.

The district reacted in January 2008 to the allegations by briefly reassigning Cleveland, 39, a social studies teacher, and placing her on two-day unpaid suspension. But within weeks she was back in her classroom, according to the department’s report. It is not known what, if any, disciplinary was taken regarding Filson, 56, a law enforcement teacher.

The school district, which has denied it violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, agreed last month to pay Merritt’s family $25,000.

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