MN teachers acussed of harassment placed on leave

Anoka HennepinThe Anoka-Hennepin School District reported that two teachers who repeatedly mocked a student they believed was gay are on leave, a district official said Tuesday.

Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson were placed on leave within the past week, said Ginny Karbowski, director of career and technical education for the Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP), where the two taught.

The district’s action is the latest development in the controversy over the teachers, who allegedly harassed a student, Alex Merrit, back in early 2008.

The announcement by the district comes on the same night concerned parents and community members met to protest Cleveland and Filson outside the school’s open house. Their protests turned to celebration when they learned the teachers were on leave of absence, and not returning to their classrooms when school starts next Tuesday.

Merritt, who is now 18, said the teachers harassed him, and subjected him to classroom jokes, comments and innuendos because they thought he was gay, which he says is not true.

An investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights concluded there was enough evidence to show that Cleveland and Filson had subjected the student to jokes and taunts, and that the conduct was “egregious enough to compel the student to withdraw from the situation by transferring to another school.”

The state investigation found the Anoka-Hennepin district did not honor the student’s mother request that her son be removed from the teachers’ classrooms.

Last month, the Merritt’s reached a $25,000 settlement with the Anoka-Hennepin school district.

District officials say they could not explain why Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson were placed on leave, due to privacy rules. They wouldn’t comment on who approved their leave and whether it was paid administrative leave or not.

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