Another Anoka-Hennepin School District Fail: Lesbian Couple Banned From Pep Rally Earns A Lawsuit + A Settlement
After filing suit against Minnesota’s Champlin Park High School for sexual orientation discrimination, Desiree “Dez” Shelton (pictured) and Sarah Lindstrom have dropped their case — after the school district said they would let the lesbian couple walk together at a pep rally, where their classmates had voted them into the “Snow Days Pep Fest Royalty Court.” Would it shock you to hear the school district that originally planned to bar the pair from walking together is none other than Anoka-Hennepin School District, the same place where a student accused two teachers of bullying him and where 15-year-old Justin Aaberg was bullied to death?
Traditionally, Champlin Park’s “Snow Days” festival has students in the royal court walk through the school’s field house while an announcer reads off a few facts about each couple. Shelton and Lindstrom, both 18-year-old seniors, were going to be denied that opportunity because school officials didn’t want to, uh, offend their classmates. Oh, and to protect the safety of the two girls, who, school spokesman Brett Johnson says, would have been at risk of teasing. Instead of letting them WALK LIKE A BUNCH OF DYKES, administrators planned to cancel that part of Snow Days. So on Friday, NCLR and SPLC filed suit, claiming the school’s actions violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, which bars discrimination based on sexuality.
A district spokeswoman said the Champlin Park High School principal didn’t want the young women to walk in together because he feared they would be teased, but the lawsuit said denying them that opportunity was discrimination and an infringement of their First Amendment rights. The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights filed the lawsuit Friday afternoon on their behalf. Anoka-Hennepin schools spokeswoman Mary Olson said the women said they weren’t comfortable walking in with a male student. Principal Michael George was concerned about the reaction of other students to a lesbian couple walking in together, Olson said, so on Friday the district decided the royal court would arrive individually or accompanied by a parent or favorite teacher.
By Saturday, school officials must have realized the error of their ways, reaching a settlement agreement with the students, which meant the lawsuit was withdrawn. The agreement reached between students (represented in the lawsuit by the Southern Poverty Law Center, National Center for Lesbian Rights, and the law firm Faegre & Benson) and the school district allows for students to walk in the pep rally with “a meaningful person in their life,” regardless of gender or relationship status. “All parties are pleased to announce that we have worked together, collaboratively, to arrive at an arrangement for introductions of elected royalty that is respectful and inclusive of all students,” reads a statement released by the district. Anoka-Hennepin school board chairman Tom Heidemann says the agreement is “win-win” for everyone.
Snow Days, scheduled for Monday, might be pushed back for a few days to allow more time for students to choose their escorts.
The lawsuit, which was “amicably” dismissed, according to both sides, now will be viewed as an opportunity for the school to consider its policy regarding activities “that will make our school communities inclusive and will enable us to realize the district-wide objective of honoring all students,” according to the statement. Students elect the 24 members of the Snow Days royalty. Twelve seniors and four students from each of the Brooklyn Park school’s other three grades are chosen, with an equal number of boys and girls. Shelton and Lindstrom were voted for by their friends, and claimed that two boys were willing to walk together to allow the girls to enter as a couple.
Well thank god, right? I mean, who doesn’t need to file a lawsuit every time a school in the Anoka-Hennepin School District — the state’s largest — decides it wants to discriminate against gay students? After all, this is the same school district whose superintendent Dennis Carlson, even after watching Justin Aaberg and five other teens take their own lives in the 2009, continues to insist there is “no evidence that bullying played a role in any of our students deaths.” But there is evidence queer students’ rights to receive the same education and opportunities in school is continually violated!