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Justice Dept. investigating Anoka-Hennepin schools for harassment of gay students

Justin Aaberg is one of four gay teen suicides in two years.
Justin Aaberg is one of four gay teen suicides in two years.

The Department of Justice is investigating allegations of a hostile environment toward gay and lesbian students against the Anoka-Hennepin County school district.

The DOJ, along with the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, are looking into the district after a series of teenage suicides were blamed on students' sexuality issues, CNN reports.

Friends and family say four teen suicides in the last two years can be traced back to students' questions about their sexuality, and two of those students were the direct targets of bullying.

The school district orders that teachers avoid talking about issues of sexual orientation, and officially maintains a policy that teachers remain "neutral."

The Department of Justice confirmed to CNN that it was looking into "incidents involving harassment or bullying," and the district said that school staff had been interviewed by federal investigators.

Anoka-Hennepin is the only district in the state with a stated policy of neutrality toward sexual orientation. Eight other states have similar statutes -- Alabama, Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Texas and Utah -- none of them with an especially positive record on gay rights.

The county's "sexual orientation curriculum policy" reads:

"Teaching about sexual orientation is not a part of the District adopted curriculum; rather, such matters are best addressed within individual family homes, churches, or community organizations. Anoka-Hennepin staff, in the course of their professional duties, shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions. If and when staff address sexual orientation, it is important that staff do so in a respectful manner that is age-appropriate, factual, and pertinent to the relevant curriculum. Staff are encouraged to take into consideration individual student needs and refer students to the appropriate social worker or licensed school counselor."

District Superintendent Dennis Carlson told CNN the policy was meant as a balance, presumably referring to those parents in the district who are gay-friendly, and those who aren't

"It's a diverse community," Carlson said, "and what we're trying to do, what I'm trying to do as a superintendent is walk down the middle of the road."

Tammy Aaberg's 15-year-old son Justin committed suicide after another student at Anoka High School told Aaberg he was going to hell because he was gay. Tammy Aaberg said the policy keeping teachers "neutral" is partly to blame for her son's death.

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