The ACLU of Wisconsin sent an official complaint to the Chippewa Falls Area Unified School District this week on behalf of four recent graduates, claiming that the district’s administrators failed to properly handle “sexual, racial and gender-based harassment on school grounds.” Part of the way they did that is by telling students that it was their responsibility to stop their own harassment.
Here’s one example of what’s going on, though there are plenty of others.
Hazel Behling, a 2018 graduate, was dating another girl during her senior year of high school. That led to constant harassment from other students as well as Rachel Wallace, a substance abuse counselor employed by the district. At one point in the school year, Wallace asked Behling to come to her office (even though she had no substance abuse issues):
… When Ms. Behling entered Wallace’s office, Wallace asked Ms. Behling whether Ms. Behling knew the sins she had committed. In the course of the conversation, Wallace asked Ms. Behling if she believed in God. Wallace — as a school employee and on school property during the school day — also told Ms. Behling that she needed to repent her sins or she would go to hell. Ms. Behling understood the word “sins” to be referring to her sexual orientation.
Another student anonymously claimed Wallace had similar things to say about trans people:
“[Rachel Wallace] is also my coach for tennis and I remember her talking about transgendered people while we are playing saying nasty stuff about them… I always felt horrible after going knowing that I couldn’t be the person that I wanted to be and love the people that I loved without them pressuring me that God wouldn’t love me.”
Behling said she also faced harassment from Alan Dunham, the father of another classmate and a youth pastor at Chippewa Valley Bible Church:
Dunham frequently visited CFHS during school hours. On multiple occasions during the spring of 2018, Dunham approached Ms. Behling at school and communicated to her that her sexual orientation was sinful, that she should repent, and similar messages…
Again, there are many examples of this — some anonymous complaints and others with names attached to them — and when students informed the district about these issues, the district had a responsibility to deal with it. They chose not to, according to the complaint.
To be clear, this is not a lawsuit. This is a warning. It’s a chance for the district to fix its problems without getting courts involved.
The [Cultivative Coalition consisting of those former graduates] ultimately hopes that, at the conclusion of this complaint process, the Chippewa Falls School District will be more transparent about the environment at their schools, will implement anti-harassment programming for staff and students to create a healthier school culture, and will provide a clear and accessible complaint procedure and other strong supports for students who are targets of harassment.
They’re not asking for much. In fact, they’re asking for things the district should already be doing. But since the people running this district seem incapable of addressing their problems on their own, let’s hope this sharp nudge will do the trick.
For its part, the district says it’s investigating the complaints, but they’re also suggesting they did nothing wrong:
However, and with due respect, Hazel has either omitted important details in her account of this matter or those details were edited from her story before it was published. To be clear, critical details have been omitted; we simply cannot be sure by whom. However, we cannot provide those details due to pupil confidentiality requirements.
The church that employs Dunham also alleged that Behling was lying:
… After carefully examining Hazel’s allegations, the totality of the facts, as we understand them, do not at all support Hazel’s allegations, and to the contrary, appear to represent a gross mischaracterization of Alan’s behavior and interactions with her.
We have not found any evidence that Alan singled Hazel out in any way, and we are shocked that such serious allegations would be made with such little regard for the facts of the situation. We took these accusations seriously, just as we seriously consider our calling to be a loving church that reflects our God…
None of that technically contradicts Behling’s allegations. As everyone knows, churches like these routinely harass LGBTQ students but just refer to it as “love.” But in any case, if a student says a parent is harassing her on school grounds, the district has a responsibility to put a stop to it.
(Image via Shutterstock. Thanks to Mike for the link)