Students' Rights in Connecticut
Connecticut law forbids discrimination in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression and has a strong anti-bullying law.
Questions & Answers (Accurate as of February 12, 2014)
Harassment and Discrimination at School
Are there any laws protecting gay and transgender public school students in Connecticut?
Yes. Conn. Gen. Stat. 10-15c was amended in 1997 to add “sexual orientation” and in 2011 to add “gender identity or expression” to the list of characteristics upon which discrimination is forbidden in public schools.
It provides that:
“The public schools shall be open to all children five years of age and over… and each such child shall have, and shall be so advised by the appropriate school authorities, an equal opportunity to participate in the activities, programs and courses of study offered in such public schools, . . . without discrimination on account of race, color, sex, gender identity or expression, religion, national origin or sexual orientation . . .”
What kinds of conduct does the law cover?
Technically, the law addresses equal opportunity with respect to activities, programs and courses of study. While a school would not likely say, “Don’t come here,” or “You can’t take track,” their actions may imply as much. For example, if a school fails to redress pervasive harassment against you at the school generally or in a particular class or activity, this may violate the letter of the non-discrimination law. At this time, the student rights law does not itself contain a mechanism for lawsuit based on violations of the law, but it may nonetheless prove to be the source of a private right of action. In any event, the law is a powerful tool in advocating for change in a school to institute training programs and to deal with problems when they arise.
Are there other laws, which may protect me from discrimination and harassment because of my sexual orientation?
Possibly. Under federal law, public schools, which receive federal funds, may not discriminate on the basis of sex. Sometimes, the harassment of a gay student will be sexual harassment forbidden by this federal law, known as Title IX. Complaints can be made to your school Title IX coordinator, as well as to the federal Dept. of Education, Office of Civil Rights, in Boston. You may also consult with an attorney and go directly to Court.
What can I do if I’m being discriminated against at school?
There are many ways to approach the issue. One is to ask for support from a friend, teacher or counselor and talk to the people who are bothering you. That is not an option, however, if you don’t feel safe doing so.
Take a look at your school policies and notify whoever is supposed to be notified—usually a vice principal or Title IX coordinator. You may wish to document any incidents of harassment or discrimination in writing. Once you meet with the right officials, make a note of what you told them and on what date and ask when they will be getting back to you with a response. If they don’t help you or don’t follow through, you may wish to write to the superintendent and school board and ask them to end the discrimination.
At the same time, or after contacting the administration as set out above, you may want to send a copy of your complaint to the State Dept. of Education. While they do not have an explicit policy on complaints and they have no obligations under the non-discrimination law, you could request that they intervene on your behalf. Contact Office of Public Information, Conn. State Dept. of Education, 165 Capitol Ave., Hartford, CT 06145. Their phone number is (860) 566-5677 and their website is http://www.state.ct.us/sde/.
If this fails, you may also wish to consider taking legal action against the city or town. Contact GLAD for attorney referrals.
Does Connecticut have a law to protect public school students from bullying?
Yes, and the law improved significantly in 2011 with the passage of Public Act 11-232, An Act Concerning the Strengthening of School Bullying Laws.121 Under this law, bullying is defined as:
- repeated written, oral or electronic communication or physical acts or gestures by one or more students directed at another student in the same school district, that
- causes physical or emotional harm or damage to his/her property, places the student in reasonable fear of being harmed, creates a hostile school environment, infringes on the student’s rights or substantially disrupts the education process or the school’s orderly operation
The Act explicitly lists “characteristics” (including sexual orientation and gender identity or expression) and includes as bullying conduct that targets a student’s actual or perceived characteristic or targets someone who associates with an individual or group that has or is perceived to have one or more of these characteristics.
Each school board must develop a “safe school climate plan” that:
- enables students to anonymously report acts of bullying
- enables parents to file written reports of suspected bullying
- requires school employees who witness bullying or receive reports of bullying to report it
- requires schools to investigate all reports of bullying
- has a prevention and intervention strategy
- requires in verified acts of bullying that both the parents of the bully and the parents of the victim be notified and told about the measures taken by the school to ensure the safety of the victim and to prevent further acts of bullying
- prohibits bullying on school grounds, at a school-sponsored or school-related activity, at a school bus stop or on a school bus, through electronic means (i.e. cyberbullying)
- prohibits discrimination and retaliation against an individual who reports or assists in the investigation of an act of bullying
- requires the school to notify the police about any acts of bullying that may constitute criminal conduct
- requires schools to maintain a publicly available list of the number of verified bullying incidents and to report this annually to the Connecticut State Department of Education
- requires all school employees to complete annual training on identifying, preventing and responding to bullying and to youth suicide
Do students have the right to form Gay/Straight Alliances in their schools even if the principal or community opposes it?
Students have several legal tools available if they wish to form a GSA or club. A federal law known as the Equal Access Act provides that secondary school students in schools that receive federal funding and have extra-curricular groups must allow students to form other extra-curricular groups without discriminating based on the religious, philosophical, political or other content of the speech at meetings. According to the law, school administrators must respond consistently to all requests for the formation and funding of extra-curricular clubs, even if they don’t agree personally with the content or think the community isn’t ready for it. GLAD brought and won a case for students at West High in Manchester, New Hampshire on this very basis. In addition, in some cases, First Amendment principles may be brought to bear on behalf of students wishing to form a club.