Office for Civil Rights Announces Resolution of Sex-Based Harassment Investigation of a K-12 Transgender Student

Recently, the Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced the resolution of a high school student’s complaint of sex-based harassment resulting from her identification as transgender. The OCR determined that the Tamalpais Union High School District in California “failed to respond in a prompt and equitable manner to repeated notice of sex-based harassment” and caused the student to “experience a hostile environment on the basis of sex.” The investigation also found that the District violated Title IX by “failing to respond promptly and effectively” to sex-based harassment of a transgender student that was “predicated on sex-stereotyping”.

According to the original complaint, the student began identifying as a transgender girl during the 2017-18 school year. That year, the school guidance counselor sent an email to the student’s teachers informing them of the student’s preferred female name and that she had “come out in her class”’ the previous term. During the 2017-18 school year, the student was “harassed throughout the school year” because she was transgender. The conduct included “mispronouncing” the student’s chosen name, being referenced by “her previous male name,” and “mix[ing] up male and female pronouns when referencing her.” The student also reported a separate incident in 2018 where she was subjected to “ongoing bullying” about her appearance, sex, and voice. In 2018, the student’s mother emailed the school’s Assistant Principal, a teacher, and the guidance counselor, raising concerns about her daughter’s harassment. In response, the teacher offered to “rearrange” her class to separate the students, but the parent did not think this was adequate. The OCR, however, found no evidence that the Assistant Principal had replied to that email or adequately disciplined the students accused of harassment. Ultimately, OCR found that the District “permitted the student to be subjected to a hostile environment” that seriously limited the “student’s ability to participate in or benefit” from the school’s programming.

To ensure future compliance with Title IX, Tamalpais Union High School District has agreed to reimburse the student or parent for past counseling services the student received after the harassment began, revise its policies “to clarify that harassment based on sex included harassment based on sex stereotyping, and train its employees and contractors on Title IX reporting obligations.”

Through this resolution, OCR is signaling that it will be using Title IX to protect transgender students from discrimination and harassment. Schools should apply the protections of Title IX to transgender students, else risk exposing themselves to the time and cost of an OCR investigation. The Department of Education has also issued new proposed Title IX regulations which include an emphasis on broadening the definition of sex-based harassment and enhanced protections for transgender students.

For more information on the resolution agreement and the OCR’s determinations, see the links below:

ICS provides e-learning opportunities through Title IX University and DEI University to assist school districts and institutions with compliance on this topic. Contact us for more information.