In January, we blogged that the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights had undertaken an unprecedented investigation by agreeing to look into charges that a school district failed to protect a middle-school student from anti-gay bullying that resulted in the student’s suicide. Today OCR announced that the school district, Tehachapi Unified in California, has agreed to a settlement in response to OCR’s finding that the school district was in violation of Title IX. Specifically, OCR determined that the student, Seth Walsh, was targeted for his “nonconformity with gender stereotypes, including his predominantly female friendships and stereotypically feminine mannerisms, speech and clothing.” Additionally, the harassment was severe and pervasive, and that the school officials knew about it and did not adequately respond.
Under the terms of the settlement, the school district has agreed to a number of reforms, including revision of its harassment policies to address gender-based harassment, better training and education for its students, teachers, administrators, a survey assessment of the school climate regarding harassment, and responding to the climate through measures determined by consultation with an advisory committee, of administrators, students and parents.
These settlement terms are in my opinion are not so much punitive as simply “best practices” for prevention of bullying and harassment. Other school districts should not wait for a situation to escalate into a tragedy and government intervention before taking this list on themselves.