Summersgill urges school policy on student harassment
Superintendent Arlene Ackerman
District of Columbia Public Schools
825 North Capitol St., N.E.
Washington, DC 20002
Dear Ms. Ackerman:
The Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC is an all-volunteer, non-partisan, non-profit gay and lesbian rights organization. It was founded in 1971 to advance the equal rights of gay men and lesbians in Washington, DC. We are the nation's oldest continuously active gay and lesbian civil rights organization. Our first lobbying success was persuading the DC Board of Education in May 1972 to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation throughout the public school system. We have been involved in a number of other issues involving the school system over the past 28 years.
We would like to point out to you a potentially serious and expensive problem for the DC School system that can be readily rectified by your action.
As you know, the DC School system has no formal policy on student-on-student sexual harassment. The United States Supreme Court ruled last May that schools that willfully ignore sexual harassment of one student by another can be held liable for violating federal civil rights law-Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.
Writing for the majority in Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, Justice Sandra Day O'Connor said lawsuits may be filed against school officials who knowingly and deliberately ignore student-on-student harassment.
Enactment of an anti-harassment policy would both reduce the potential for student-on-student harassment as well as provide the school system with record of concern and active involvement in stopping harassment.
It is important that a sexual harassment policy also include sexual harassment based on sexual orientation.
The Supreme Court recently clarified that sexual harassment directed at lesbian and gay students is also covered by Title IX. In Nabozny v. Podlesny, the Wisconsin school district that ignored student brutality against a gay classmate lost nearly one million dollars.
Unfortunately, the abuse of lesbian and gay students often involves sexual harassment from their peers. This harassment often takes the form of violence. Turning a deaf ear to complaints of serious harassment and violence, the court found, school officials themselves facilitate the denial of educational opportunities to harassed students.
A recent survey of major school districts in the U.S. by the Gay, Lesbian and Straight Education Network alerted us to this deficiency. DC received a disappointing grade of "C" in their report card. The major shortcoming-and the easiest to correct-is the harassment policy. We do not want to see gay and lesbian students being harassed in our public schools, nor do we want the District government to be hit with an expensive lawsuit. That is why we are asking you to implement comprehensive anti-harassment policy.
Of course, along with the declaration of a policy statement, training of teachers and staff would be needed to insure that they understand their obligation to stop harassment and take seriously complaints of students being harassed by their peers.
Enclosed is a copy of a brochure from the Department of Education on how to set up anti-harassment policies in schools.
We would welcome the opportunity to meet with you to discuss this issue and provide other resources that you might find useful. Please call us at 202-667-5139 so that we may arrange for a meeting.
Vice-President for Political Affairs
CC: Craig Bowman, SMYAL
Councilmember Kevin Chavous
Councilmember Sharon Ambrose
Councilmember Phil Mendelson
Councilmember Kathy Patterson
Councilmember Carol Schwartz
Councilmember David Catania
Councilmember Jim Graham
According to GLSEN, policies that protect students and staff from harassment based on real or perceived sexual orientation have been adopted by:
- Albuquerque Public School District
- Boston Public School District
- Broward County Public School District
- Columbus Public School District
- Dade County Public School District
- Dallas Independent School District
- Denver Public School District
- Detroit Public School District
- Los Angeles Unified School District
- Memphis City School District
- Minneapolis Public School District
- New York City School District
- Oakland Unified School District
- Omaha Public School District
- Palm Beach County Public School District
- Philadelphia Public School District
- San Diego Unified School District
- San Francisco Unified School District
- Seattle Public School District
- St. Paul Public School District
- Tucson Unified School District