Harassment and Bullying: Feds Give Schools a Stern Reminder and Underscore Rights of LGBT Students

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Schools must protect students from harassment, and if they don’t, the federal government will have something to say about it.  That was the message sent by the White House and the Department of Education on October 26th when they issued new guidance designed to make clear that schools have a legal duty to protect students from harassment under existing federal civil rights statutes. 

The laws aren’t new. But the stern reminder from the Asst. Secretary for Civil Rights sends a clear message to school districts that the U.S. Office for Civil Rights, the agency responsible for enforcing the federal civil rights laws in schools, will aggressively enforce these laws.  The New York Times reported on the action.

Significantly, the new guidance clarifies that, although religion and sexual orientation are not explicitly included in the civil rights statutes DOE enforces, federal prohibitions on national origin and sex discrimination also protect religious minorities and LGBT students from some harassment.  Specifically, the federal ban on sex discrimination protects an LGBT student who experiences discrimination because he or she is not viewed as conforming to gender stereotypes of what it means to be a male or female.  (For a full discussion, see http://www.aclu.org/lgbt-rights/white-house-issues-guidance-harassment-schools-prohibiting-some-discrimination-against-l.)

While Washington law clearly protects LGBT students against discrimination and harassment, having the added weight of federal protection could greatly benefit students suffering from harassment and bullying at school.

That’s why the ACLU is working to pass the federal Student Non-Discrimination Act, which will help ensure that ALL students have access to a safe and fair educational environment. The bill establishes a comprehensive federal prohibition against discrimination in public schools based on a student's actual or perceived sexual orientation or gender identity, and provides victims with meaningful and effective remedies modeled after Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972.

You can help protect LGBT students from harassment and discrimination (read more here). Take action now and urge passage of H.R. 4530/S. 3390, the Student Non-Discrimination Act.