Wisconsin school district vows to remedy nonbinary student harassment – USA TODAY

A rural Wisconsin school district announced Thursday it would provide a safer environment after a nonbinary student said they were harassed that prompted a U.S. Department of Education intervention.
During the Education Department’s probe of the high school in Rhinelander, Wisconsin, it was discovered that multiple teachers repeatedly used incorrect pronouns when referring to the harassed nonbinary student. One teacher removed the student from class because the teacher couldn’t protect the student from being continuously harassed by other students.
The investigation also found that students were bumping into the harassed high school student in the hallways and were calling the student derogatory slurs for LGBTQ+ people. The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights said the district’s responded to the allegations by changing the student’s schedule to attend school in person for only three classes and take the rest of their classes through “self-directed study.”
“The (district’s) response to the persistent harassment limited the student’s participation in school activities,” the Education Department said. “Additionally, the information produced in the investigation does not reflect the district taking steps to ensure the student’s equal access to education with their peers.” 
The deal is the latest attempt by the Education Department’s civil rights arm to crack down on noncompliant schools using the landmark gender equity law. It follows an investigation after a nonbinary high school student and their parent repeatedly reported to Rhinelander school district officials about the student being “mocked and targeted” by their classmates during the 2021-22 academic year.
The Education Department said that the agreement ensures the School District of Rhinelander will comply with Title IX, the federal law that bans sex discrimination in schools, when responding to harassment based on gender identity. 
As part of the agreement, the district will provide additional training to students and staff ondiscrimination, harassment, and bullying, Rhinelander Superintendent Eric Burke said in a statement to USA TODAY on Thursday.
The student, then a sophomore at Rhinelander High School, is no longer in the district of about 2,400 pupils as their family moved out of state more than a year ago, Burke added.
The Education Department’s findings against the Rhinelander school district come as threats of violence against the LGBTQI+ community intensify according to the Biden administration and a recent Homeland Security report to law enforcement agencies.
That was followed by the Human Rights Campaign declaring a state of emergency for LGBTQ+ people in the U.S. The organization also released a guidebook and a “Know your rights” information sheet.
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In its probe, the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights also said it had concerns about how the Rhinelander school district kept records of miscoded sex-based harassment, “including the use of a slur for LGBTQI+ people, as ‘peer mistreatment.'”
The Civil Rights Office added that the school district didn’t adequately document multiple complaints the nonbinary student and their parent made as well as not adequately document its response to the complaints. The investigation pointed out that the district’s Title IX coordinator said she was unaware of any reporting of the student being harassed until a complaint was filed with the Education Department.
“Congress promises every student a right to fully participate in educational programs without harassment based on sex,” Catherine Lhamon, head of the Education Department’s civil rights office, said in a statement. “Rhinelander School District has now committed to take steps to ensure that promise of equal access to education for all its students.”
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Among the resolutions in the district’s agreement with the Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights include whether to compensate or provide other services to the nonbinary student due to their time missed in class because of the harassment.
The district plans to provide training to all administrators and staff on complying with Title IX and how to respond to complaints of sex-based harassment; Students will be offered “age-appropriate” programming, including what they should do if they have or believe their classmates have experienced sex-based harassment.
The district will also conduct a “climate survey” to gauge any sex-based harassment, get suggestions and find ways to address any such harassment.
Burke, the district superintendent, said Thursday that through the resolution agreement, the district is committed to making changes instead of “fighting over the merit of the allegations” in the complaint.
“We continuously provide training to our students and staff, so agreeing to providemore training was a commitment we have already embraced,” Burke said. “The District is committed to providing a safe environment for all students.”


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