DOE says school district was negligent in responding to bullying against Seth Walsh

Seth Walsh

The U.S. Department of Education today issued a ruling declaring that the Tehachapi School District in California was negligent in not adequately intervening in the harassment and bullying that 13-year-old Seth Walsh faced at school in the years leading up to Walsh’s suicide last fall.

Walsh’s suicide was one of several tied to anti-LGBT bullying that happened last fall and focused national attention on the issue, leading to the creation of the It Gets Better Project.

In its ruling, the DOE noted that Walsh had subjected to “persistent, pervasive and often severe sex-based harassment,” and that the school district had been notified of the bullying but had failed to do anything to stop it. The ruling notes that while the Tehachapi school district’s sexual harassment policy and regulations are in line with federal law, the district — in the case of Seth Walsh — failed to follow its own policies and procedures.

According to the accompanying resolution agreement, the district will be required to revise its policies, hire new personnel to oversee harassment intervention, implement trainings for faculty and staff about both observing and intervening in harassment, and then report on the success of intervention strategies.

To read the DOE’s complete letter detailing its ruling in the case, go here.

To read the complete resolution agreement, go here.

—  admin

U.S. Department of Education warns schools that anti-gay bullying can violate civil rights laws

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan
Secretary of Education Arne Duncan

“It Gets Better” has been a success. Videos and public appearances by people like Councilman Joel Burns led to videos by President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

A transgender North Dallas High School student’s attempt to run for homecoming queen ended with a rally of support at her school as well as an appearance on MTV.

Many young people have gotten the message but so have school districts and even the U.S. Department of Education.

The education department announced Tuesday that school districts that do nothing to combat bullying will lose money. The letter said the guidelines “do include protection against harassment of members of religious groups based on shared ethnic characteristics as well as gender and sexual harassment of gay, lesbian, bi-sexual, and transgender individuals.”

The announcement also said that the White House will convene a conference on bullying early next year.

Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said:

“Bullying is a problem that shouldn’t exist. No one should ever feel harassed or unsafe in a school simply because they act or think or dress differently than others. To every student who feels threatened or harassed—for whatever reason—please know that you are not alone. Please know that there are people who love you. And please know that we will protect you.”

—  David Taffet

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