He Was Tormented Not By Peers, But His Teachers. Guess Who the School Stands Behind?


When Alex Merritt spoke up to reveal two of his own teachers made fun of him, in front of classmates, for thinking he is gay, Merritt probably didn’t think he’d walk away with a $25,000 settlement from the Anoka-Hennepin School District in Minnesota. He probably also didn’t think he’d have to listen to the the school district stand behind the teachers.

Last night a “standing-room only” crowd gathered at the school district’s meeting, with plenty of parents outraged over the school board’s decision to defend the two accused teachers (Walter Filson and Diane Cleveland), who Merritt says made jokes about his perceived sexuality and appearance during the 2007-08 school year, which left him alienated and forced to change schools.

The boy’s “fence swings both ways,” teacher Diane Cleveland commented during a class in the 2007-2008 school year, according to an investigation by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights.

When the boy wrote a report on Ben Franklin, Cleveland allegedly said before the entire class that the boy had a “thing for older men.” Another teacher, Walter Filson, said in front of other students that the boy “enjoys wearing women’s clothes.” When the boy decided to report on Abraham Lincoln, Filson allegedly said, “Since you like your men older …” the Human Rights report said.

But there’s only so much concerned parents and a Facebook page, with 1,200 supporters, can do, apparently.

The board has so far stood behind the teachers, claiming this is an isolated incident and both teachers have an excellent record with the district. Board chairman, Michael Sullivan said the board will consider all that was said at the meeting.

“There have been specific suggestions that I would hopefully will follow up on and pursue to see if they make sense in the context of this district,” he said.

Know what we have here? A school district protecting teachers who are actually harming children. The board denies the teachers violated the Minnesota Human Rights Act, but paid up anyway.

We don’t have to get into the psychology of teens, especially those who don’t fit strict gender norms. To our knowledge, Merritt hasn’t said whether he is gay or straight, Merritt says he’s straight, but that doesn’t matter: Targeting a student shouldn’t be tolerated by classmates, but particularly their instructors. It fosters an environment of ridicule and torment.

For Merritt’s sake, we hope he is straight; he leaves for basic Army training next week.

UPDATE: The teachers have been placed on leave.