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Wisconsin School District Responds to Gender Identity Harassment

The “In the States” feature by Kaitlyn Brennan is a weekly update to keep members informed on state-level activities impacting the education and educator preparation community.

Earlier this month, The Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced that the Rhinelander School District in Rhinelander, Wisconsin entered into an agreement to ensure compliance with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 when responding to harassment based on gender identity.

The investigation by OCR found that during the 2021-22 school year, a nonbinary 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 ground that the teacher could not protect the student from harassment by the other students.

In response to the allegations of harassment, the district changed the student’s schedule to attend school in-person for only three classes and to take additional classes through self-directed study. OCR’s investigation determined that not only did the district unnecessarily limit the student’s participation in school activities but also disclosed that district records miscoded sex-based harassment, including the use of a slur for LGBTQI+ people, as “peer mistreatment;” did not document the multiple complaints of sex-based harassment brought by the student and their parent; and did not adequately document the district’s responses.

In a press release, Assistant Secretary for Civil Rights Catherine Lhamon said in part:

“Congress promises every student a right to fully participate in educational programs without harassment based on sex. Rhinelander School District has now committed to take steps to ensure that promise of equal access to education for all its students.”

The district’s commitments in the voluntary resolution agreement include the following:

  • Evaluating whether compensatory services or other services are necessary for the harassed student due to the instructional time the student missed when attending in-person classes on an only part-time basis.

  • Providing training to all district administrators and staff regarding the district’s obligation, in compliance with Title IX, to respond to complaints of sex-based harassment.

  • 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. And,

  • Conducting a climate survey to assess the prevalence of sex-based harassment and obtain suggestions for effective ways to address harassment.

Read the letter to Rhinelander School District and the resolution agreement.

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