Teachers accused of gay ridiculing won’t start school year


By Nancy Ngo
St. Paul Pioneer Press Dispatch
Coon Rapids, Minn. — The two Anoka-Hennepin school district teachers accused of making disparaging remarks about a student’s perceived sexuality will not be in the classroom when classes resume Tuesday.

The school’s notice about the teachers — Diane Cleveland and Walter Filson — came the same day a citizens group urged students to boycott their classes. The group had earlier asked the district to fire the teachers.

School board chairman Tom Heidemann wouldn’t elaborate about why the teachers would not start the school year Tuesday.

Filson could not be reached for comment, but Cleveland’s attorney Phil Villaume said she has taken an unpaid, voluntary leave of absence. Her decision was made within the past week.

“She’s not going to return until this matter is resolved,” Villaume said. However, “she has no intent of resigning.”

Cleveland is a social studies teacher. Filson is a law enforcement instructor.

About 30 residents attended the school board meeting last week, some calling for the teachers’ firings. Others wanted more staff diversity training. At an open house Tuesday for the district’s Secondary Technical Education Program in Anoka, the group asked students to protest by opting out of the teachers’ classes.

The uproar began after student Alex Merritt’s mother filed complaints with the state Department of Human Rights saying Filson and Cleveland made remarks about Merritt’s supposed homosexuality during the 2007-08 school year.

included that Filson commented in front of students that Merritt liked wearing women’s clothes and that Cleveland suggested Merritt was a cross-dresser and was attracted to older men. The teachers’ comments created a culture that encouraged students to make similar remarks, the state agency said. The daily taunting forced Merritt — who is not gay — to move to another school district 25 miles from home to finish 11th grade and his senior year. Full story.

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