U.S. Department of Education Investigating Tehachapi School District

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December 22, 2010
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The Office of Civil Rights of the U.S. Department of Education is investigating allegations that the Tehachapi Unifed School District in Kern County violated federal law by not intervening to stop years of harrasment of Seth Walsh because he was gay.

On September 19, 13-year-old Seth Walsh hanged himself from a tree in his backyard.  He was on life support for nine days before he died on September 28.

In a video released last week, Seth's mother, Wendy Walsh, says that her son was bullied, accosted, and ridiculed for years but that school officials did not address the problem.

Seth's death was one of a number of suicides by young gay people in the fall. In response, the Department of Education announced in October that it considers harassment based on gender non-conformity a violation of Title IX, a national civil rights law barring discrimination based on sex. This was the first time that the federal government stated that Title IX covers harassment targeting students who refuse to conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity and femininity.

In 1999, Governor Gray Davis signed a bill requiring California school districts to protect students from harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity. 

A 2003 Ninth Circuit ruling in Flores v. Morgan Hill set the precedent that school administrators may be held liable, in both their official and personal capacities, if they fail to investigate or fail to take adequate measures to remedy anti-gay harassment and discrimination. 

UPDATE: On July 1, 2011, the U.S. Departments of Justice and of Education announced that an investigation into the Tehachapi School District had concluded and a settlement had been reached. The investigation confirmed that Seth Walsh was targeted for harassment at school for two years and that the school district did not fulfill its responsibilities to protect him from this harassment. As a result of the settlement, the school district will implement a series of specific policies, procedures and training that will better protect students from sexual harassment and harassment based on gender stereotypes.