Monday, September 14, 2009

Political correctness and misguided Department of Human Rights appear to infringe on teacher's rights.

A front page Pioneer Press story titled, "Former Anoka-Hennepin student's claim of harassment was retaliation, 6 students and 2 teachers say" raises troubling questions about the alleged anti-gay harassment of an Anoka Hennepin high school student. It also suggests political correctness run amok and abuse of individual rights by government agencies.

The student who said two Anoka-Hennepin School District teachers harassed him with comments hinting he was gay made the allegations only after one of the instructors reported him to school officials for talking about bringing a gun to school, former students and the lawyer for one of the teachers assert.

Six former students at the school claim in a letter that the student, Alex Merritt, "went around saying he was going to get that teacher fired for sending him down (to the office) ... He was only trying to get himself out of trouble."

"That's what precipitated this whole thing — the gun incident," said Philip Villaume, an attorney who represents Diane Cleveland, one of the teachers. "I don't know whether the administration will admit that she reported the gun incident, but that's what happened.

"But ... for that report to the administration about the gun, none of this would've happened," he said. "Basically, the student took things that were said in class, or things that happened in class, and either exaggerated or misconstrued them."

Villaume and some former students claim that Merritt made his January 2008 allegations only after Cleveland reported to school officials that he and some other students had discussed bringing a gun to school. Teachers are required by law to report such incidents.

"She had been told by the school (police) liaison officer that this group of kids had been heard talking about taking a gun to school," Villaume said. "She had to report that. Within a few days of that, she was being targeted for making harassing or discriminatory remarks, which she absolutely denies making."

...Six former students at the school claim in a letter that the student, Alex Merritt, "went around saying he was going to get that teacher fired for sending him down (to the office) ... He was only trying to get himself out of trouble."

"That's what precipitated this whole thing — the gun incident," said Philip Villaume, an attorney who represents Diane Cleveland, one of the teachers. "I don't know whether the administration will admit that she reported the gun incident, but that's what happened.

"But ... for that report to the administration about the gun, none of this would've happened," he said. "Basically, the student took things that were said in class, or things that happened in class, and either exaggerated or misconstrued them."

So contrary to prior news reports, there's another side to this story. The charged teachers and a number of students say the alleged harassment never occurred. And the student alleging the harassment apparently had a grudge against the teacher and, in the minds of other students, wanted to get him fired.

In today's politically charged, politically correct environment, any hint of anti-gay comments immediately grab headlines and the accused is assumed to be guilty.

This story also points out the dangers inherent in the state's Department of Human Rights which operates on the assumption that if there's an allegation of discrimination, the accused person or organization is forced to prove their innocence rather than be proven guilty. This means a person must go to great expense to prove they're not guilty. This turns our justice system on it's head regarding presumption of innocence.

According to the news story, the state human rights department never interviewed Cleveland or Filson, nor did agency investigators interview any of the students who might have witnessed the alleged incidents. Instead it was looking at whether the school was guilty of discrimination. Apparently, they thought the school was guilty without asking the accused teachers or students with some knowledge of the situation.

Although the school district denied it violated the state's Human Rights Act and admitted no wrongdoing, it paid Merritt $25,000 in a settlement finalized in July by the Minnesota Department of Human Rights. The agency said its investigation found sufficient evidence that Merritt "had been subjected to unwelcome harassment" by Cleveland and another teacher, Walt Filson, and that the harassment forced the student to transfer to another school.

...In reaching its harassment finding, the state human rights department never interviewed Cleveland or Filson, nor did agency investigators interview any of the students who might have witnessed the alleged incidents.

Instead, the department relied on the investigation conducted by DeAnn LaValle, director of employee services for the Anoka-Hennepin School District. Records show officials spoke to Cleveland twice with a union representative present, and Filson once without union representation.

The teachers claim that in those meetings, they denied the student's allegations. But it is unclear whether the Department of Human Rights knew that the two teachers disputed the student's claims.

Jeff Holman, a spokesman for the agency, said such information is part of the investigation and state privacy laws prohibit the department from talking about it.

Holman said there was no need for the agency to investigate the teacher's claims because it was looking only into whether the district had violated the Human Rights Act, and the agency concluded there had been a violation, based on the district's own admissions.

"Because the district's own investigation had determined the comments were made, the Department of Human Rights had no need to prove what the district had already admitted," he said.

But Filson, who spent nearly three decades as a police officer before becoming a teacher, said he believes it is unfair that the human rights department issued a report accusing him of wrongdoing when it had never interviewed him.

"The accusations are false," Filson said in an interview with the Pioneer Press in his first public comments on the matter. "The Department of Human Rights never spoke to me or the other teacher, or the other students in the classes. In 28 years in law enforcement, I don't think I ever closed an investigation without at least attempting to talk to the accused."

Filson taught law enforcement and Cleveland was a social studies teacher. Both are on voluntary unpaid leaves.

I've always had misgivings about the State Department of Human Rights, because it's premised on the belief that individuals accused must prove their innocence rather than the department must prove their guilt. And the department's activities are premised on group identity issues, e.g. race, sex, sexual orientation, etc. rather than on individuals.

And it looks like the school district wanted to avoid controversy, so they decided to pay a settlement rather than find out whether there actually was harassment.

If today's story is accurate, the teachers are left with damaged reputations and I wonder whether the school district may well be paying out more money.

2 comments:

mom said...

If it is true that a story like this was put out there with no fact checking then what ever group pushed it out into the media should be chatized, just like when the radical extremists and alarmists put out words of death panels or when people accuse the highest rank of the country is a lier. Those people need to be put to the highest level of punishment the law provides as the for the first.

I doubt if any of you (meaning all that are wrong) will come out to appologize and take responsibilty.

It seems that extreme radical organizations such as yourselves and those who you dislike on the other side have no conscience that way.

But thats just my opinion.

mom said...

If it is true that a story like this was put out there with no fact checking then what ever group pushed it out into the media should be chatized, just like when the radical extremists and alarmists put out words of death panels or when people accuse the highest rank of the country is a lier. Those people need to be put to the highest level of punishment the law provides as the for the first.

I doubt if any of you (meaning all that are wrong) will come out to appologize and take responsibilty.

It seems that extreme radical organizations such as yourselves and those who you dislike on the other side have no conscience that way.

But thats just my opinion.