Department of Education Resolves Investigation Into Student And Teacher Harassment Based On Student’s Gender Identity

CATEGORY: Private Education Matters
CLIENT TYPE: Private Education
DATE: Jul 21, 2023

This month, the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) resolved a sex-based harassment investigation in Rhinelander School District in Wisconsin. OCR’s investigation reflects that during the 2021-2022 school year, a non-binary student and their parent reported to the district that students repeatedly mocked and targeted the student during multiple classes, while multiple teachers repeatedly used incorrect pronouns for the student, and one teacher removed the student from class on the grounds that the teacher could not protect the student from harassment by the other students.

OCR also reviewed evidence that students bumped the student in the hallways and called the student a derogatory slur for LGBTQI+ people. The district responded to these allegations of harassment by changing the student’s schedule to attend school in-person for only three classes and to take additional classes through self-directed study.

OCR determined that the district’s response to the persistent harassment limited the student’s participation in school activities and that the district did not take steps to ensure the student’s equal access to education with their peers. The district also failed to properly categorize and document the ongoing harassment, and did not coordinate a response consistent with Title IX.

OCR entered into an agreement with the district, where the district committed to:

  • Evaluating whether compensatory services or other services are necessary for the student due to the instructional time the student missed when attending in-person classes on a part-time basis.
  • Providing training to all administrators and staff regarding the district’s obligation to respond to complaints of sex-based harassment, in compliance with Title IX;
  • Providing age-appropriate information programs for students to address sex-based harassment, including what students should do if they believe they or other students have experienced such harassment;
  • Conducting a climate survey to assess the prevalence of sex-based harassment and obtain suggestions for effective ways to address harassment; and

The letter to the school district can be found here, and the resolution agreement can be found here.

Note: Although Title IX only applies to schools receiving federal funding, this investigation shows how schools should respond to harassment based on gender identity. To note, the type of behavior this student was subjected to would also be a violation of many independent schools’ harassment prevention policy.