Students' Rights in Vermont
Vermont law forbids discrimination in public schools on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity.
Questions & Answers (Accurate as of March 4, 2014)
As was mentioned in the section on Anti-Discrimination Law above, schools (public, independent, and post-secondary) are considered places of public accommodation,122 and therefore they may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in their accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges.123 As a result, if you are discriminated against, you may be able to pursue a complaint at the Human Rights Commission or in Superior Court.
The questions and answers that follow list other rights and protections for students.
Are there any state laws that protect me from harassment, hazing, and bullying at school?
Yes. It is the policy of the state of Vermont that all Vermont educational institutions provide “safe, orderly, civil and positive learning environments. Harassment, hazing and bullying have no place and will not be tolerated in Vermont schools.”125
Bullying is defined as an act (including an electronic one) directed against a student by another student or group of students that:
- is repeated over time;
- is intended to ridicule, humiliate or intimidate; and
- substantially interferes with a student’s right to a safe education regardless of whether it happens on or off school grounds.126
Harassment is defined as verbal, written, visual, or physical conduct (including by electronic means) motivated by a student's or student's family member's actual or perceived characteristic such as sex, sexual orientation, gender identity or expression or HIV status that is intended to:
- substantially interfere with educational performance or access to school resources; or
- create an intimidating or hostile environment.129
Hazing is defined as any act against a student who is involved with a student organization which is intended to humiliate, intimidate, or demean the student or endanger the physical or mental health of the student.131
What are schools required to do to prevent bullying, harassment, and hazing?
All public and approved independent schools must develop, adopt, ensure the enforcement of, and make available to all students, staff, and parents, bullying, harassment and hazing prevention policies that shall be at least as stringent as the model policies developed by the Vermont Department of Education.133 The model policies can be found at: http://hrc.vermont.gov/Vermont%20Department%20of%20Education%20Documents.
All of these policies must include:
1. Annually notifying the students, staff and parents about the policies and procedures;
2. A procedure that directs students, staff and parents to report violations and file complaints;
3. A procedure for investigating reports of violations and complaints;
4. A description of the circumstances under which the violation may be reported to a law enforcement agency;
5. Consequences and appropriate remedial action for those who violate the policy;
6. A description of the training that teachers and other staff will receive in preventing, recognizing and responding to violations; and
7. Designation of two or more people at each school to receive complaints.134
Harassment is also explicitly prohibited at Vermont postsecondary schools, which are required to establish policies and enforcement procedures to address harassment complaints.135
Are there federal laws that protect me?
Possibly. Under federal law, public schools that receive federal funds may not discriminate on the basis of sex. Sometimes, the harassment of a gay student will be sexual harassment or harassment based on a student’s failure to conform to a particular gender stereotype, both of which are forbidden by this federal law, known as Title IX. Complaints can be made to your school Title IX coordinator, as well as to:
The U.S. Department of Education:
Office of Civil Rights
33 Arch Street, Suite 900
Boston, MA 02110-1491
Additionally, some kinds of discrimination and harassment may violate a student’s constitutional rights.
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. When harassed, if you feel safe, you may wish to speak to the perpetrators.
In addition, read 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. Keep copies of all documentation for future reference.
At the same time, or after contacting the administration as set out above, you may want to contact the Safe Schools Program of the Vermont Department of Education. This program is responsible for implementing initiatives related to the equal educational opportunities and anti-harassment provisions discussed above. You can reach them at:
Safe Schools Program
Vermont Department of Education
120 State Street
Montpelier, VT 05620-2501
Alternatively, since schools are considered public accommodations in Vermont, you may want to file a complaint with the Vermont Human Rights Commission (see discussion of Public Accommodations above) or other legal action. Contact GLAD for assistance and attorney referrals.
Do students have the right to form Gay Straight Alliances in their schools even if the principal or community opposes it?
Generally, yes. 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. GLAD brought and won a case for students at West High in Manchester, New Hampshire on this very basis. See more about this case at http://www.glad.org/work/cases/west-high-gsa-v-manchester-school-district/.
Contact GLAD as soon as possible if a school is denying or delaying a Gay Straight Alliance or trying to keep you from using “gay” in the name.
Protect Your Rights
Call: (800) 455-GLAD (4523)
Email or Live Chat:
Vermont Human Rights Commission
Vermont Department of Education
US Department of Education Office for Civil Rights
Know More About Your Rights:
The text of the Vermont anti-bullying and anti-harassment laws: http://bit.ly/vtbullyinglaw
GLAD’s Vermont students’ rights webpage: http://bit.ly/vtstudentrights
GLAD’s webpage on student rights: http://bit.ly/gladstudentrights
Local LGBTQ Youth Groups
(802) 865-9677 (general)
Burlington/Champlain Valley Chapter
White River Junction Chapter
New England Network for Child, Youth, and Family Services
Other Resources You Can Use
R.U. 1.2? Community Center
Vermont Department of Health, Services for People Living with HIV/AIDS
AIDS Hotline: (800) 882-2437
(802) 863-7245 (general); 800-464-4343 (toll-free in-state)
Vermont Department of Health, Office of Minority Health
Vermont Department of Mental Health
Vermont Network Against Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault
(800) 228-7395 (domestic violence hotline); (800) 489-7273 (sexual assault hotline); (802) 223-1302
The Trevor Project
Crisis/Support Line: (866) 488-7386
1229 V.S.A. § 4501.
1239 V.S.A. § 4502.
12516 V.S.A § 570.
12616 V.S.A § 11(a)(32).
12916 V.S.A. § 11(a)(26)(A).
131 16 V.S.A. § 11(a)(30)(A).
13316 V.S.A. § 570(b).
13416 V.S.A. §§ 570a (harassment), 570b (hazing), 570c (bullying).
135 16 V.S.A. § 14