The Anoka-Hennepin School District pledged Monday to improve the treatment of gay and lesbian students as part of a settlement that closes a long legal chapter in its struggles over bullying and sexual orientation.
The 5-1 school board vote, which resolves both a federal civil rights investigation and a lawsuit filed last summer by six former and current students, was received with cheers and hugs among plaintiffs and their supporters. The suit had said the district did not adequately respond to persistent physical and verbal harassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation.
The settlement creates a five-year partnership between the school district and the federal departments of Justice and Education to help create programs and procedures to improve the school climate for all students.
Michael McGee, father of plaintiff Damien McGee-Backes, praised the affected students for coming forward. "If it were not for their courage and determination to tell their stories and to stand up and say, 'Enough, I deserve better; we all deserve better,' we would not be on the precipice of not only creating change in the Anoka-Hennepin School District, but also proving a model for change nationally," McGee said.
Anoka-Hennepin officials said that, with help from the U.S. departments of Justice and Education, the district will set a new state standard for anti-bullying efforts.