by Jeremy Leaming
While a large public school district in Minnesota has taken steps, prompted by legal action, to combat discrimination against LGBT students, the U.S. Department of Education has released information, which perhaps not surprisingly, reveals persistent discrimination against black students in public schools nationwide.
Reporting for the Pioneer Press, Sarah Horner details the Anoka-Hennepin school district board’s vote, with one member resigning in protest, to “accept a settlement agreement with [Dylon] Frei and five other former and current district students who had filed two lawsuits over a policy requiring staff to remain neutral when the topic of sexual orientation came up in the classroom.” As Horner notes Frei and the other students had repeatedly faced sexual harassment and gender stereotyping. Frei, Horner reports, told a crown outside the school board offices that his peers had repeatedly called him “fag,” and physically harmed him.
The school board voting 5-1 approved a consent decree that will resolve the students’ lawsuit brought by the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) and the National Center for Lesbian Rights. The decree also resolves a separate complaint lodged in Nov. 2010 by the U.S. Departments of Justice and Education.
The consent decree filed with the U.S. District Court for the District of Minnesota includes a number of requirements that Anoka-Hennepin school officials will have to undertake to ensure they comply with Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which bar harassment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students.
For example the school district, the largest in Minnesota, must retain a consultant to review the district’s policy on harassment, create and implement “a comprehensive plan for preventing and addressing student-on-student sex-based harassment,” and improve “its system for maintaining records of investigation and responding to allegations of harassment.”
Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary for Civil Rights at the Department of Education, in a press statement about the settlement said, “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.”
The school district, the Pioneer Press, reports must also “pay a lump sum of $270,000 to be divided among the students” involved in the lawsuit. Frei told the newspaper that he was “glad we could make a difference for everybody, not just us. Change is coming, I can feel it.”
Sam Wolfe, an SPLC attorney, called the agreement “historic,” and will provide a “fresh start for the Anoka-Hennepin School District. Unfortunately, this district had become notorious for anti-LGBT hostility and discrimination. This consent decree sets the stage for Anoka-Hennepin to become a model for other school districts to follow.”
Black public school students, as The New York Timesreports, continue to face discrimination. Citing new data from the U.S. Department of Education, the black students “accounted for 35 percent of those suspended once, 46 percent of those suspended more than once and 39 percent of all expulsions ….” The newspaper notes that black students “made up only 18 percent of those enrolled in the schools sampled.”
“Over all,” The Times continues, “black students were three and a half times as likely to be suspended or expelled than their white peers.”
Latino students, according to the Education Department’s report, were also disproportionately expelled or punished in public school districts.
Department of Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Russlynn Ali will provide more information about the data collection today in a national press call and discussion at Howard University. The Education Department’s website states the “far-reaching survey covers 72,000 schools serving 85 percent of America’s students, with self-reported school-level data on discipline, college readiness, teacher equity and retention according to race and disability status, among other data.”
Deborah J. Vagins, ACLU’s senior legislative counsel, called the survey “dramatic.” She said that the disproportionately harsh treatment of minority students “especially expulsion under zero tolerance referrals to law enforcement, show that students of color and students with disabilities are increasingly being pushed out of schools, oftentimes into the criminal justice system.”