The tragic death of 13-year-old Seth Walsh last year was one of many that drew national attention to the bullying of LGBT and LGBT-perceived youth. Now, the Departments of Education and Justice have ruled that Tehachapi School District was negligent in intervening in the harassment Walsh faced in the years leading up to his suicide. In a 20-page letter, the DOE and DOJ detail the multitude of ways Walsh was harassed and how the district was negligent in defending him from sexual and gender-based harassment under Title IX and Title IV (PDF):
Based on the above facts and analysis, the United States concludes that the Student was subject to persistent, pervasive, and often severe sex-based harassment that resulted in a hostile educational environment of which the District had notice, and that the District failed to take steps to sufficient [sic] to stop the harassment, to prevent its recurrence, or to eliminate the hostile environment. Although the District’s Sexual Harassment Policy and Regulation are consistent with the law with respect to sexual harassment, the District did not adhere to its own policy in addressing the multiple forms of notice it received with regard to the treatment of the Student.
This is the department’s at least second comprehensive implementation of the guidance issued in a Dear Colleague letter last October advising that bullying based on sexual orientation is protected as “gender-based harassment” under existing laws.
According to the accompanying Resolution Agreement (PDF), 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 report on the success of intervention strategies.
Walsh’s death was one of many in a spate of highly visible youth suicides last year that led to the creation of the It Gets Better campaign. The California legislature is considering an anti-bullying bill known as “Seth’s Law” (AB 9) that will help create a respectful and safe environment for all students.
This post was updated to correct that this was not the first time that the Department of Education has intervened to protect LGBT/LGBT-perceived students. Thanks to Todd Heywood for the correction.