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Departments of Justice and Education announce landmark settlement in case of Seth Walsh

WASHINGTON -- The Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) today applauded a major settlement reached by the Departments of Justice and Education highlighting the importance of comprehensive policies, effective training and data-driven accountability to preventing bullying and harassment of LGBT students.

In 2010, 13-year-old Jacobsen Middle School student Seth Walsh committed suicide after he was the victim of severe harassment due to his nonconformity with gender stereotypes. An investigation found that despite being notified of the harassment, the Tehachapi Unified School District in Tehachapi, Calif., failed to adequately investigate or respond.

Under the agreement announced today, the district is required to prevent and respond to gender-based harassment at its schools, and undertake district-wide efforts to eliminate the hostile environment resulting from the peer-on-peer harassment of any student.

"This settlement is a huge and melancholy victory in the on-going fight for safe, supportive schools for all students, and the first closure of any kind in the cases that rocked the nation last fall," said Eliza Byard, GLSEN executive director. "My heart goes out to the Walsh family and our thoughts are with them today, as this step forward for the students of Tehachapi has come at an unimaginable cost."

As a result of this landmark ruling, the school district will revise its policies related to sexual or gender-based harassment and will provide mandatory trainings on these types of harassment for all students, teachers, administrators and staff.

The district will also form an advisory committee made up of administrators, students and parents to advise the district on sex-based harassment. Other requirements include filing compliance reports, assessing the school's harassment climate, continually monitoring for harassment and holding mandatory community and parent meetings.

"Assistant Attorney General Thomas Perez and Assistant Secretary of Education Russlynn Ali and their teams are to be commended for doing everything in their power to reach a settlement to benefit future generations of Tehachapi students," Byard said. "The Departments of Education and Justice have provided a harrowing illustration of the kind of gender-based and homophobic harassment that Seth Walsh faced every day. The settlement also represents a hugely important directive to districts regarding the comprehensive approach necessary to make sure that no other students suffer as Seth did."

Research consistently demonstrates that comprehensive policies and the presence of supportive educators in the school environment - two outcomes of the terms of the Tehachapi settlement - are critical protective factors for LGBT students. GLSEN's 2009 National School Climate Survey found that LGBT students whose schools had such supports in place were more likely to feel safe in school, to feel connected to their school communities, and to plan to graduate and go on to college. In the 2011-12 school year, GLSEN will begin comprehensive, districtwide implementation work in twenty school districts funded by the CDC's Division of Adolescent and School Health to promote the increased presence of these protective factors, among others, in schools nationwide.