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Minnesota School District Enters Into Five Year Consent Degree with Department of Justice and the Office of Civil Rights in Resolution of Peer-on-Peer Harassment and Discrimination Claims Based Upon Sex and Sexual Orientation

The Anoka-Hennepin school district (District) in Minnesota recently entered into a five year consent decree with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and the U.S. Dept. of Education, Office of Civil Rights (OCR) to resolve two separate actions brought by six current or former district students alleging peer-on-peer harassment and discrimination based upon sex and sexual orientation. The actions were brought against the district, its school board and several individual school administrators.

The negotiated consent decree provides for detailed remedial measures aimed at eliminating and preventing future instances of harassment in its education programs and activities and also requires payment of $270,000 to the plaintiffs in full settlement of the Title IV and Title IX claims. 

The agreed upon measures under the consent decree are numerous, varied and comprehensive. They range from required policy reviews and revisions (including a revision to provide that all harassment, including that based upon non-conformity to gender stereotypes and/or gender identity and expression, is prohibited in the District), to appointment of both a District Title IX Coordinator to address sex based harassment and an Equity Coordinator to focus solely on sexual orientation–based harassment. Other remedial measures to be undertaken by the District include: adoption of procedures for electronic tracking of  harassment incidents involving sex-based or sexual orientation based harassment; the hiring of a third party consultant to review policies, procedures and advise and oversee the District’s success in implementing the required changes;  student and employee education and training; expansion of the District’s existing anti-bullying/anti-harassment task force; identification of harassment hot-spots in its middle and high schools; adoption of peer leadership program in its middle and high schools for addressing harassment; the continuation of the Superintendent’s annual meeting with  students at every middle and high school; and implementation of a program to monitor and assess the effectiveness of its anti-harassment efforts including administering anti-bullying surveys.

The remedial measures under the consent decree mirror many of the newly adopted responsibilities placed on Connecticut school districts under our state’s recently revised bullying statute. The statute has called for school districts to undertake a comprehensive approach to prevent bullying and create a positive school climate. This case should also be of high interest to the Connecticut educational community in light of the bullying legislation as well as legislation passed last spring specifically prohibiting discrimination based upon gender identity or gender expression. What are your schools doing proactively in response to this potential type of discrimination?