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No student should be afraid to go to school. Yet harassment and bullying against gay students is still prevalent in schools throughout the United States. There is no place for bullying in schools, and schools should take responsibility for preventing any form of harassment against their students.

Let’s head to Upstate New York. While school administrators turned a blind eye, Jacob, a gay teenager, experienced bullying by peers. In response, the New York Civil Liberties Union (NYCLU) filed a lawsuit against the Mohawk Central School District last summer on behalf of Jacob. Jacob was bullied, threatened, and physically assaulted due to his effeminate behavior. Federal prosecutors argued that the Title IX statute, which prohibits discrimination based on gender, also covers discrimination based on gender expression. The school district denied any wrongdoing but reached an agreement with Jacob.

The settlement agreement includes paying Jacob’s family $50,000 as well as implementing changes to prevent further harassment. Due to the settlement, the Mohawk Central School District will train staff to prevent harassment, review its harassment policies, and report its progress to the NYCLU and the Department of Justice. Meanwhile, Jacob has transferred to a high school in another district, where he is much happier.

In a statement following the settlement, the Mohawk Central School District reported that it hopes to “serve as a model for other school districts confronting issues of bullying and intolerance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and gender non-conforming students.”

The settlement is certainly a great step forward for students in this school district and an important step in protecting LGBT students in other school districts. Hopefully this will set precedent for ending future discrimination based on gender expression in schools.

But a model for other school districts? Hardly. I hope other school districts follow the model of a school district where no gay student is suing and transferring schools due to harassment.

One would hope that it doesn’t take allegations of bullying and a lawsuit for school districts to take a stand against bullying. Bullying is a common problem. All teachers should be trained to prevent bullying, no matter the cause. All students should know that it is not OK to threaten their peers and that inappropriate behavior will result in consequences.

Schools must step up and enforce anti-bullying policies to protect LGBT students and to make a statement about the importance of accepting everyone, before others are treated like Jacob.

Photo credit: DaveFayram

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