Teacher Diane Cleveland's rights violated by Human Rights department

Anoka-Hennepin teacher Diane Cleveland's privacy rights were violated when her name was made public by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights during its investigation of comments she made about a straight student's perceived homosexuality, a judge has ruled.

Last August, the district said it was paying the student's family $25,000 in a settlement after the Cleveland and another teacher made Alex Merritt's perceived sexual orientation into a class joke.

Cleveland's lawyer, Phil Villaume, called the ruling a major victory. From the Pioneer Press:

Villaume argued that Minnesota statute states a person's name cannot be released in human-rights investigation results unless the person is a complainant or respondent. Villaume said the student and his family were the complainant and the school district was the respondent in the case. Villaume said Cleveland is asking for a minimum of $50,000 in damages.

Merritt wrote a report on Ben Franklin during the 2007 school year on Ben Franklin. Cleveland, evidently exercising some less-than-stellar gaydar skills, told the class that Merritt had a "thing for older men," that his "fence swings both ways.

When Merritt wrote a report on Abraham Lincoln, another teacher, Walter Filson, said, "Since you like your men older ..." Filson also told some students that the boy "enjoys wearing women's clothes."

Merritt said the harassment from the teachers meant endless threats and taunting from classmates too. He said he received death threats and notes say "Shut up, you queer" and "I'm going to kill you, you queer."

Seems like an environment ripe for that kind of homophobia: OutFront Minnesota, a local gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) advocacy group, offered to train staff in the districts new sexual orientation policy, but the district refused. As late as February, staff were told to refrain from calling homosexuality a "normal, valid lifestyle" in health classes.

The teachers weren't fired. And for some folks, that meant the teachers weren't punished severely enough. Protesters showed up carrying signs decrying homophobia at a school board meeting after the settlement was announced.

Merritt was at that meeting too. He wanted the teachers fired.

"I wanted to give some support ... they should not be allowed to teach anymore," said Merritt, 18, who is enlisting in the U.S. Army. "I hope that the word gets out there so this doesn't happen to any other kids."

In September, we learned that the two teachers were on leave and wouldn't start the school year. Cleveland's described her situation as an unpaid, voluntary leave of absence until the matter was resolved, and added that she didn't plan to resign.

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