The U.S. Departments of Justice and Education reached a settlement today with a California school district after one of its middle school students, Seth Walsh, committed suicide in the wake of years worth of bullying and harassment based on the student's non-conformity with gender roles, according to the ACLU of Southern California.
Walsh, who was 13 at the time of his suicide, killed himself in September of last year. After his death, the Department of Education received a complaint that the school district did not fulfill its responsibility in keeping Walsh safe from threats, bullying and harassment.
According to The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN), incidents were reported to school officials but the district failed to adequately respond or deal with the offending students.
DOJ: California school district must properly deal with bullying after student’s suicide
“This settlement is a huge and melancholy victory in the on-going fight for safe, supportive schools for all students, and the first closure of any kind in the cases that rocked the nation last fall,” said GLSEN Executive Director, Eliza Byard. “My heart goes out to the Walsh family and our thoughts are with them today, as this step forward for the students of Tehachapi has come at an unimaginable cost.”
In a first-of-its-kind settlement, the Tehachapi Unified School District will be forced to create new policies and train its staff in ways to better protect students from sexual harassment and harassment based on gender stereotypes. Gay rights advocates applauded the settlement while expressing hope that future suicides could be prevented with new policies.
“The findings from the DOJ and the DOE send a clear message that protection of students in public schools is of paramount importance,” said said James Gilliam, Director of the Seth Walsh Project at the ACLU of Southern California.
“When it comes to stopping harassment based on sexual orientation and gender perception, schools need to get it right or face the consequences. Better harassment policies save lives and make a safer environment for all students. No student should feel threatened for being who they are,” Gilliam added.