Federal officials are investigating allegations of harassment and bullying in Anoka-Hennepin Schools, Minnesota's largest school district, CNN reports.
The investigation, led by the Justice Department and the Department of Education's Office of Civil Right, examines allegations of civil rights laws violations and complaints that there have been cases of discrimination and bullying "based on not conforming to gender stereotypes," according to CNN.
The Anoka-Hennepin district has a controversial policy on teaching or discussing sexual orientation in the classroom. The policy states that it's not a part of the official curriculum and should be discussed outside the classroom. District employees "shall remain neutral on matters regarding sexual orientation including but not limited to student led discussions." The policy was adopted in 2009 after two teachers were accused of harassing a student they thought was gay.
Over the last two years, seven district students have committed suicide, three of whom were gay and reportedly acted as a result of being bullied, according The Minnesota Independent.
Since then, students and community members have rallied and petitioned to reform the district's neutral policy regarding sexual orientation. The Star Tribune reports that one petition bearing 12,000 signatures has made its way to the district board of education. The effort was led by a former student from the district who is gay and the mother of Justin Anderson, who committed suicide at the age of 15 last year after being bullied for being gay, according to Minnesota Public Radio.
The Southern Poverty Law Center and the National Center for Lesbian Rights threatened to file suit against the district in May, arguing that Anoka-Hennepin is in violation of federal law for not fostering a safe educational environment for students. The SPLC called the district's policy a "gag rule," The Minnesota Independent reported.
Responses from advocates of the policy assert that the SPLC and NCLR misinterpreted the rules, and that the policy is in line with the Minnesota Human Rights Act.
It is currently unclear whether the federal investigation will delve into the district's neutrality policy or the suicides, CNN reports. Anoka-Hennepin Superintendent Dennis Carlson also told CNN that the district does not plan to revise its policy on sexual orientation curriculum.
The investigation and spotlight on Anoka-Hennepin's sexual orientation curriculum policy comes amid news from California, where Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill last week that officially added lessons about gay and lesbians to the public school social studies curriculum.