Youth | Bullying | Vermont
Schools (public, independent and postsecondary) are considered places of public accommodation (9 V.S.A. § 4501), and therefore they may not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity in their accommodations, advantages, facilities or privileges (9 V.S.A. § 4502). 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” (16 V.S.A § 570).
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
- occurs during the school day on school property, on a bus or at a school-sponsored activity or before or after the school day on a school bus or at a school-sponsored activity; OR occurs at any other time and can be shown to pose a clear and substantial interference with a student’s right to access educational programs (16 V.S.A. § 11(a)(32)).
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 disability that is intended to:
- objectively and substantially undermining and detracting from or interfering with educational performance or access to school resources; or
- creating an objectively intimidating, hostile or offensive environment (16 V.S.A. § 11(a)(26)(A)).
Hazing is defined as any act against a student who is pledging, being initiated into, affiliating with, holding office in, or maintaining membership in any organization that is affiliated with an educational institution and that is intended to have the effect of (or be reasonably expected to have the effect of) humiliating, intimidating or demeaning the student or endangering the physical or mental health of the student (16 V.S.A. § 11(a)(30)(A)).
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 (16 V.S.A. § 570(b)). The model policies can be found at: http://education.vermont.gov/documents/healthy-safe-schools-hhb-model-policy.
All of these policies must include:
- Annually notifying the students, staff and parents about the policies and procedures;
- A procedure that directs students, staff and parents to report violations and file complaints;
- A procedure for investigating reports of violations and complaints;
- A description of the circumstances under which the violation may be reported to a law enforcement agency;
- Consequences and appropriate remedial action for those who violate the policy;
- A description of the training that teachers and other staff will receive in preventing, recognizing and responding to violations; and
- Designation of two or more people at each school to receive complaints (16 V.S.A. §§ 570a (harassment), 570b (hazing), 570c (bullying)).
Harassment and hazing are also explicitly prohibited at Vermont postsecondary schools, which are required to establish policies and enforcement procedures to address harassment complaints (16 V.S.A. § 178).
Can schools regulate anti-bullying policies outside of school grounds?
Yes, the US Supreme Court in Mahanoy Area School Dist. v. B. L. affirmed in addition to concluding that students have broad speech and expression rights outside of school, also stated:
“Circumstances that may implicate a school’s regulatory interests [outside school] include serious or severe bullying or harassment targeting particular individuals; threats aimed at teachers or other students…”
Does Vermont have specific guidance for schools to follow to protect transgender students?
Yes. The Vermont Agency of Education has established best practices for schools regarding transgender and gender nonconforming students. These practices are intended to help school and district administrators take steps to create a culture in which transgender and gender nonconforming students feel safe, supported, and fully included and to meet each school’s obligation to provide equal educational opportunities for all students. These practices are intended to help schools ensure a safe learning environment free of discrimination and harassment and to promote the educational and social integration of transgender and gender nonconforming students.
Are there federal laws that protect me?
Possibly. Federal law prohibits sex discrimination in public schools that receive federal funding. Depending on the situation, harassment of LGBT students may be actionable as sex discrimination (See, e.g., Ray v. Antioch Unified School District, 107 F. Supp. 2d 1165 (N.D. Cal. 2000) (stating that attacks based on a student’s perceived sexuality constitute sex discrimination)). Harassment of transgender students in particular is actionable. Several federal courts have held that the federal anti-discrimination law, Title IX, prohibits discrimination based on gender identity (See, e.g., Whitaker v. Kenosha Unified School District No. 1 Bd. of Educ., 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 9362 (7th Cir. 2017); cf. Bd. of Educ. v. U.S. Dep’t of Educ., 2016 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 131474 (S.D. Ohio 2016)).
Complaints can be made to your school Title IX coordinator, as well as to:
Office of Civil Rights
The U.S. Department of Education
John W. McCormack Post Office & Courthouse, Room 222
Post Office Square
Boston, MA 02109
Additionally, some kinds of discrimination and harassment may violate a student’s constitutional rights.
What can I do if I’m being discriminated against or bullied 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 with at least the date and time. Once you meet with the right officials, write yourself notes about 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.
If this fails, you may also wish to consider legal action against the town by contacting the Connecticut Commission on Human Rights and Opportunities or the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
This is a complicated area of law as well as being emotionally challenging. Contact GLAD Answers by filling out the email form at GLAD Answers or by phone at 800-455-4523 (GLAD) to discuss options.
A Victory for LGBTQ YouthRead More
Everyone from the American Psychiatric Association to the American Academy of Pediatrics agrees that seeking to change a…