The Office of Civil Rights in the Department of Education has released clarifying guidelines for schools indicating that under certain circumstances students are protected under federal law from bullying based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
"This guidance is an extremely important reminder to all school districts of their existing responsibilities under current civil rights statutes," GLSEN Executive Director Eliza Byard said. "The Departments of Education and Justice are rightly focused on the plight of certain religious students and lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender students who may not be receiving the full protections from bullying and harassment that are their right. While additional, specific protections are still needed, I commend this Administration for doing all in its power to protect vulnerable students."
While the guidelines are similar to ones released under the Clinton Administration and reaffirmed by the Bush Administration, they mention bullying specifically for the first time and list a clear and specific example of how students are protected under federal law.
The OCR's example of a situation in which a school is obligated to take immediate and effective action to address bullying of a gay student where the bullying is based on sex-stereotyping:
"Over the course of a school year, a gay high school student was called names (including anti-gay slurs and sexual comments) both to his face and on social networking sites, physically assaulted, threatened, and ridiculed because he did not conform to stereotypical notions of how teenage boys are expected to act and appear (e.g., effeminate mannerisms, nontraditional choice of extracurricular activities, apparel, and personal grooming choices). As a result, the student dropped out of the drama club to avoid further harassment. Based on the student's self-identification as gay and the homophobic nature of some of the harassment, the school did not recognize that the misconduct included discrimination covered by Title IX. The school responded to complaints from the student by reprimanding the perpetrators consistent with its anti-bullying policy. The reprimands of the identified perpetrators stopped the harassment by those individuals. It did not, however, stop others from undertaking similar harassment of the student.
GLSEN further commends the Department for recognizing the value of schools and districts adopting anti-bullying policies as an additional tool toward creating safe learning environments.
The Administration also indicated its support for the goals behind two proposed bills, the Safe Schools Improvement Act, which will require schools to adopt comprehensive anti-bullying policies, and the Student Non-Discrimination Act, which will prohibit discrimination in schools based on sexual orientation and gender identity/expression.
GLSEN has a recommended model district policy. Download it from RELATED DOCUMENTS on the upper right.