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Calif. School District Ordered to Address Harassment

Calif. School District Ordered to Address Harassment

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In the wake of a 13-year-old student's suicide, the federal government has ordered the Tehachapi, Calif., school district to institute programs to combat sexual and gender-based harassment.

The order came in the settlement, announced Friday, of a complaint that the district failed to adequately address the antigay bullying suffered by Jacobsen Middle School student Seth Walsh, who took his own life last September.

Walsh's mother, Wendy, filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education about the harassment endured by Seth, who had come out to her as gay when he was in sixth grade. After an extensive investigation in concert with the Department of Justice, federal officials determined that the youth "was targeted for harassment for more than two school years because of his nonconformity with gender stereotypes, including his predominantly female friendships and stereotypically feminine mannerisms, speech and clothing," according to a Department of Education press release.

The school district violated the federal Civil Rights Act by failing to "adequately investigate or otherwise respond" to the harassment, despite having been notified of it. The law prohibits sexual harassment, in addition to harassment based on gender nonconformity.

"Bullying, sexual harassment, and gender stereotyping -- of any student, including LBGT students -- have no place in our nation's schools," said Russlynn Ali, assistant secretary of education for civil rights," in announcing the settlement.

Under the agreement, the district must assess the degree of sexual and gender-based harassment in the schools and take action against it, retain a consultant to conduct mandatory trainings for staff, and form an advisory committee of administrators, parents, and students to deal with the issue.

The Gay, Lesbian, and Straight Education Network and the American Civil Liberties Union called the settlement a "landmark," while Wendy Walsh was brought to tears by reading the investigation's findings, her attorney, Daniel Rodriguez, told The Bakersfield Californian.Walsh has testified in Congress recently about antigay bullying, and she is pursuing a wrongful death lawsuit against the school district. She wants "to make sure this doesn't happen to other children," Rodriguez said.

Toward that goal, the California Assembly has passed a measure known as "Seth's Law" to require antibullying programs at all California schools, and it is headed to the state Senate. The ACLU of Southern California has launched the Seth Walsh Students' Rights Project to combat bullying and discrimination in the state's schools, especially that directed against LGBT students.

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Trudy Ring

Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.
Trudy Ring is The Advocate’s senior politics editor and copy chief. She has been a reporter and editor for daily newspapers and LGBTQ+ weeklies/monthlies, trade magazines, and reference books. She is a political junkie who thinks even the wonkiest details are fascinating, and she always loves to see political candidates who are groundbreaking in some way. She enjoys writing about other topics as well, including religion (she’s interested in what people believe and why), literature, theater, and film. Trudy is a proud “old movie weirdo” and loves the Hollywood films of the 1930s and ’40s above all others. Other interests include classic rock music (Bruce Springsteen rules!) and history. Oh, and she was a Jeopardy! contestant back in 1998 and won two games. Not up there with Amy Schneider, but Trudy still takes pride in this achievement.