Teachers in Anti-Gay Harassment Case Take ’Voluntary Leave’
Two teachers who allegedly subjected a student to humiliating anti-gay comments and jokes have reportedly taken "voluntary leave."
Allegations of systematic harassment by Diane Cleveland, 39, and Walter Filson, 56, high school teachers for Minnesota’s largest school district, Anoka-Hennepin, led to an investigation by the state’s Dept. of Human Rights. The investigation found that the student, 18-year-old Alex Merritt, had had his rights violated.
The teachers reportedly mocked Merritt for being gay, although Merritt says he is heterosexual. Merritt finally transferred to, and graduated from, a different school; both Cleveland and Filson continued with their teaching duties.
The school district denied any wrongdoing, but settled with Merritt’s family for $25,000. Cleveland was given a two-day suspension, but after one day called in sick, missing the rest of the week.
Among other allegations, Cleveland reportedly remarked that Merritt had a "thing for older men" when the student handed in a report about Benjamin Franklin, and joked during a screening of a movie in which a bathing suit scene took place that the sight of a scantily clad young woman on screen would not mean anything to the young man, adding that "maybe if it was a guy" on screen the scene would be a cause for concern.
Filson reportedly told students searching for participants for a fashion show to "Take [Merritt] because he enjoys wearing women’s clothes."
The executive director of the Gay Lesbian Straight Education Network (GLSEN), Eliza Byard, spoke out against the teachers’ alleged harassment of Merritt.
"That the school allegedly allowed harassment by students to continue even after it was made aware of the teachers’ behavior is unthinkable," Byard stated.
"We can only hope that the school district will do everything it can to ensure that no other student will ever have to go through the dehumanizing harassment this student suffered."
Added Byard, "Schools have a legal obligation to make sure their students have access to an education, and ignoring or encouraging anti-gay behavior deprives students of their right to an education."
Noted a GLSEN press release on the story, "Homophobic comments by teachers are, sadly, quite common.
"Nearly two-thirds (63%) of LGBT students said they had heard such remarks from teachers or other school staff, according to GLSEN’s 2007 National School Climate Survey on the experiences of LGBT students in school," the release continued.
The release reported that, "A Minnesota research brief released in June using data from the National School Climate Survey found that 87% of Minnesota LGBT students experienced verbal harassment in school because of their sexual orientation, 41% experienced physical harassment and 14% experienced physical assault."
The brief also noted a lack of safe schools policies and resources for GLBT youth, including gay-straight alliance clubs (GSAs).
The GLSEN release observed that a number of similar cases nationwide have been settled in favor of harassed GLBT youth.