Classroom Bullies: Teachers in this case were alleged bullies

By Tony Dokoupil
Newsweek Web Exclusive
Alex Merritt was not used to being the butt of jokes. Solidly built with a smooth face and shaved blond hair, he cruised to junior year of high school without the usual social speed bumps. But, enrolled in a part-time vocational program, he was taking his first lumps, scorned for being gay — or so his tormentors claimed.

“Alex’s fence swings both ways,” they taunted. “Alex’s boat floats in a different direction than the rest of the guys in the class.”

Suddenly everything Alex did seemed to offer evidence against him: when he mentioned Ben Franklin in a report on the Industrial Age, it was because he has “a thing for older men.” When he covered Abraham Lincoln in another presentation, it was because Honest Abe and Merritt were “made for each other.” Even the name of his car, a Ford Probe, was viewed as a sign of his homosexuality — the perfect vehicle for a boy who “enjoys wearing woman’s clothes.”

That was 2007, during the fall semester of the Secondary Technical Education Program (STEP) in Anoka, Minn., a suburb 20 miles from Minneapolis. As the year progressed, the sneers sharpened and spread through much of the student body.

“Kids were calling me fag, they were calling me queer,” recalls Merritt, who says that he is straight. The Minnesota native, then 16, says that he initially decided to laugh along with the verbal attacks, hoping they would disappear. Instead, he says they escalated. The final straw came in December that year, when Merritt asked to use the bathroom. Did he want a fellow student “to sit in the stall next to him and stomp his foot?” he was asked—reference to former senator Larry Craig, whom police arrested earlier that year in Minneapolis for allegedly using the move to solicit sex with an undercover officer in an airport bathroom.

What makes this juvenile behavior so unusual? Merritt’s bullies, who allegedly made all of these remarks, were his teachers. Full story.


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