Youth | Schools | 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.
What are my rights as an LGBTQ+ student?
All Vermont public school students have the right:
- To be safe in school without being bullied,
- To access information about LGBTQ+ subjects including educational websites,
- To dress and present yourself in a manner consistent with your gender identity,
- To free speech and expression. This means you have the right to express ideas that may offend other people and you have the right to disagree with others, as long as you express those ideas in a respectful way.
All Vermont public and many private school students have the right:
- To be protected from discrimination or harassment based on sexual orientation, gender identity or expression, or HIV status,
- To form a Gay/Straight Alliance (GSA) that gets treated the same as every other non-curricular group. This means equal funding, access to facilities, and the ability to choose your group’s name.
Outside of school you have the right:
- To be protected from discrimination based on your actual or perceived sexual orientation, HIV status, or gender identity in employment, housing, and public accommodations (like restaurants or stores).
- To give your own consent to get tested for HIV without your parents’ permission. For more specific information, see the “HIV/AIDS” Issue Area.
- To report to the police anyone in or out of school who physically harms you, threatens you, or vandalizes your property.
Visit the U.S. Department of Education’s Resources for LGBTQI+ Students page for more information on what you can do if you experience discrimination
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).
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 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:
Vermont Agency of Education
219 Main Street, Suite 402
Barre, VT 05641
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 Answers for assistance and attorney referrals.
Do students have the right to form Gay Straight Alliances (GSA) in their schools?
Yes, as to high school students; probably, as to middle school students. A federal law known as the “Equal Access Act” requires that all federally funded secondary schools provide equal access to extra-curricular clubs. So long as a school has at least one student-led extra-curricular club, it must allow additional clubs to organize, and must provide them with equal access to meeting spaces, facilities, and funding without discriminating based on a club’s purpose, be that purpose religious, philosophical, political, or otherwise (20 U.S.C. § 4071). GLAD brought and won a case for students at West High in Manchester, New Hampshire on this very basis.
If your school is preventing you from forming a GSA, contact GLAD Answers.
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