Texas schools that don’t protect kids against anti-gay bullying now risk Title IX lawsuits

Stacy Dorman and Debi Ellison have convinced the U.S. Department of Education to investigate their bullying complaint against the Birdville Independent School District.

Two pieces of good news, if you will, on the bullying front today.

First, the Georgetown Independent School District has settled a lawsuit brought by the mother of now-16-year-old Ryan Mitchell, who has reportedly endured years of bullying based on his perceived sexual orientation.

Neither Texas nor the federal government explicitly prohibits anti-gay bullying in schools. But this lawsuit is part of a very positive trend in which the U.S. Department of Education under President Barack Obama is treating anti-gay bullying as a violation of Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on gender in any education program that receives federal funding. Austin’s KXAN.com reports:

“This is the first suit that the Texas Civil Rights Project has brought under title 9 alleging discrimination based on gender stereotyping and sexual orientation,” said Todd Batson, with the Texas Civil Rights Project. “However, that’s a developing area of the law.”

“I was spit on. I was knocked unconscious. My books were thrown in the trash. My finger was broken, lots of stuff,” said Ryan Mitchell, 16. “People called me gay, faggot on a daily basis.”

Terms of the settlement haven’t been disclosed, but they will include the district working with the Anti-Defamation League’s anti-bullying program, No Place for Hate.

Meanwhile, a little closer to home, a lesbian couple has succeeded in convincing the Department of Education to investigate — under Title IX — longstanding complaints of bullying against the Birdville Independent School District.

The couple, Stacy Dorman and Debi Ellison, allege that their 12-year-old son, Caine Smith, has been the victim of sexual harassment, also prohibited by Title IX. We don’t know all the details of the case, but we’re guessing the bullying is at least partly related to the fact that Caine has two moms and long hair. CBS 11 has the story.

UPDATE: We should know better than to post something like this without calling Ken Upton at Lambda Legal. Upton sent over a lengthy e-mail clarifying — and correcting — my legal analysis. In a nutshell, Upton says public school students have long been protected against anti-gay bullying under the constitutional rights of equal protection and free speech. “I just wanted to be sure we point out that while this administration has demonstrated that it cares more about the health and well-being of students than some prior administrations, and the full weight of the Department of Education indeed does change the equation in our favor, these protections are not new. More parents and attorneys willing to represent students need to be aware of them.” I’ve posted Upton’s full analysis after the jump.

—  John Wright