Students' Rights in Massachusetts
Massachusetts law forbids discrimination in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity or expression (effective July 1, 2012).
Questions & Answers (Accurate as of July 2, 2012)
What Massachusetts laws exist to protect LGBT students?
Chapter 76, Section 5 of the Massachusetts General Laws prohibits both sex and sexual orientation discrimination in its schools, whether committed by school employees or fellow students.
The Code of Massachusetts Regulations (603 CMR 26.00) establishes certain actions that schools must take to prohibit the harassment or discrimination of LGBT students ( www.doe.mass.edu/lawsregs/603cmr26.html?section=01
Harassment and Discrimination at School
). In particular, the Code requires that all schools educate staff and students about Chapter 76, Section 5 and have policies in place to ensure that complaints of discrimination and harassment are investigated and appropriate action is taken against those who violate the provisions of the law.
Also Massachusetts General Laws Chapter 151C defines fair educational practices and specifically prohibits sexual harassment by either teachers, staff or other students. Violations of this law can be brought to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination, a state agency that does not require the parties to have a lawyer.
Massachusetts’ law also protects students who are perceived to be LGBT, regardless of their actual sexual orientation. So, for example, if the vice-principal for discipline acts to resolve the harassment complaints of girls generally, but not when the harassment is directed at a female student because she is thought to be a lesbian, the school is engaging in sexual orientation discrimination.
To strengthen the protections against student harassment and bullying, in May 2010 Massachusetts implemented one of the strongest anti-bullying laws in the country86. It has strict requirements that schools must follow to protect you and your peers from bullying, even where the bullying includes only words, rather than physical violence. It also includes bullying through the use of technology. Many of these requirements apply to all schools, whether public, private, or charter. Some of the key provisions of the law include:
- Every school, with the exception of some private schools, must have in place a comprehensive anti-bullying policy.
- Your parents or guardians must be notified if the school learns that you have been bullied.
- Teachers and other school staff must receive training on how to handle bullying and are required to report bullying to the administration.
- Each school must teach students about bullying.
For detailed information about this law, see GLAD’s publication, Massachusetts Students: What to Do If You’re Being Bullied, at www.glad.org/uploads/docs/publications/ma-students-what-to-do-bullied.pdf .
Are there other laws which may protect me from discrimination and harassment because of my sexual orientation?
Possibly. Massachusetts state law allows victims of sexual harassment in nearly all schools, colleges and universities that accept students from the public generally87 to file complaints at the MCAD.88 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. A student’s constitutional rights may be violated by some kinds of discrimination and harassment.
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 should 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 principal and superintendent and ask for them to end the discrimination.
At the same time, or after contacting the administration as set out above, you may want to file a complaint with the Problem Resolution System of the Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education at (781) 338-3700. They will investigate and examine whether or not the school should consider taking further actions.
If this fails, you may also wish to consider legal action against the town. Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 76, sec. 16. Contact GLAD for attorney referrals.
Where else can I get support if I’m having a problem?
In addition to the resources listed above, you may wish to contact the Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth, (617) 624-5485; or the Violence Recovery Program, (800) 834-3242.
Do students have the right to form Gay Straight Alliances in their schools even if the principal or community opposes it?
In all likelihood, yes. According to the Mass. Dept. of Elementary and Secondary Education, the non-discrimination law (chap. 76, sec. 5) means that 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.
In addition, a federal law known as the “Equal Access Act” provides that secondary school students in schools that receive federal funding and have at least one extra-curricular group 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. GLAD brought and won a case for students at West High in Manchester, New Hampshire on this very basis.
Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth
The Commission on GLBT Youth began in 1992 when Governor William F. Weld created the Governor’s Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth in response to an epidemic of suicide among gay and lesbian youth. On October 7th, 1998, Governor A. Paul Cellucci expanded the powers of the Governor’s Commission and renewed the executive office’s commitment to combat suicide and violence affecting gay and lesbian youth. Under the Romney administration much of the effectiveness of the Commission was stripped away.
The Governor’s Commission was dissolved in 2006, and the General Court created the Massachusetts Commission on Gay and Lesbian Youth that same year.89 This Commission is an independent agency of the Commonwealth and has a mandate to investigate the use of resources from both the public and private sectors to enhance and improve the ability of state agencies to provide services that protect and support the health and safety of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) youth in the schools and communities of Massachusetts, with a focus on suicide prevention, violence intervention, and the promotion of zero-tolerance policies regarding harassment and discrimination against GLBT youth. The Commission is also mandated to make recommendations about policies and programs supporting GLBT youth to the State government and its agencies, and to ask for adequate funding in the annual State budget for effective programs.
For more information call (617) 624-5485 or view their website at www.mass.gov/cgly/
For further information see GLAD’s publication, Massachusetts Rights of LGBT Public School Students, at www.glad.org/uploads/docs/publications/ma-rights-of-lgbt-students.pdf
86 Chapter 92 of the Acts of 2010. See http://www.malegislature.gov/Laws/SessionLaws/Acts/2010/Chapter92.
87 See Horton and Andrade v. Blaine the Beauty Career School & Supplies, 29 M.D.L.R. 28 (2007) (cosmetology school held liable for sexual harassment against two students perceived to be gay lovers under Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 151C).
88 Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 151C.
89 Mass. Gen. Laws, chap. 3, sec.67.