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Know Your Rights, VT 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:

  1. is repeated over time;
  2. is intended to ridicule, humiliate or intimidate; and
  3. 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 characteristics such as sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability that is intended to:

  1. objectively and substantially undermining and detracting from or interfering with educational performance or access to school resources; or
  2. 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: Model Policy on the Prevention of Harassment, Hazing and Bullying of Students | Agency of Education.

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 (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.

The best practices include the following:

  • Schools should respect a transgender student’s name and pronouns;
  • Schools should respect transgender students’ privacy regarding any medical information, previous names, etc.;
  • The name and gender on a student’s records should conform to the student’s gender identity;
  • Transgender students should be able to use the restroom, locker room, and changing facility that accord with their gender identity;
  • In any sex-segregated activities (including athletics), transgender students should be able to participate in a manner consistent with their gender identity.

For more information about the best practices, see: Continuing Best Practices for Schools Regarding Transgender and Gender Nonconforming Students

Does the Vermont anti-discrimination law also protect students?

Yes, 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.

For more information about the Vermont anti-discrimination law and how to file a discrimination complaint, see the “Discrimination” Issue Area.

Are there federal laws that protect students?

Yes, Title IX prohibits discrimination against students based on sex in any school or college that receives federal funds. In light of the Supreme Court ruling in Bostock v. Clayton County, which determined that sexual orientation and gender identity discrimination are forms of sex discrimination, the federal Department of Education, which enforces Title IX, has stated that it will interpret any sexual orientation or gender identity discrimination as sex discrimination.

To file a complaint with the federal Department of Education Office of Civil Rights, see:  How to File a Discrimination Complaint with the Office for Civil Rights.

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.

Do students have the right to form Genders & Sexualities or Gay/Straight Alliances 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).

Does Vermont have a law that bans conversion therapy?

Yes, in 2015 Vermont passed 18 V.S.A. § 8352, Outpatient Mental Health Treatment for Minors.

State and national medical, mental health, and child welfare organizations all oppose the practice of conversion therapy, a practice that seeks to change a person’s sexual orientation or gender identity. Extensive professional literature shows the practice to be both ineffective in changing sexual orientation or gender identity and harmful to youth. Young people who have been subjected to conversion therapy are at increased risk of depression, suicidal thoughts and suicide attempts, and illegal drug use.

Under the law’s provisions, any licensed mental health provider who practices conversion therapy would be subject to discipline by the appropriate licensing agency.

IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING HARASSMENT OR DISCRIMINATION:

  • Talk to a trusted teacher or counselor
  • Look at your school’s policies (usually in a student handbook or online) and find out who to notify
  • Document any incidents of harassment (in writing, using screenshots, recordings, etc.)
  • Call GLAD Answers, our confidential legal info-line

YOU HAVE RESOURCES

Bullying and Harassment in Vermont Schools: Bullying and Harassment in Vermont Schools | VTLawHelp.org.

Agency of Education FAQ on best practices for transgender students:

School Best Practice FAQs – Outright Vermont

Title IX Protects Students from Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity: US Department of Education Confirms Title IX Protects Students from Discrimination Based on Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity

Legal Guidelines Regarding the Equal Access Act: Legal Guidelines Regarding the Equal Access Act and the Recognition of Student-Led Non-Curricular Groups (MS Word).

FAQ About Equal Access Act: Equal Access Act FAQs.pdf

Vermont LGBTQ Resources: LGBTQ+ Resources

Outright Vermont: (802) 865-9677 Email: info@outrightvt.org

PFLAG Dorset Chapter Email: pflag.dorset@gmail.com

Youth Catalytics: (802) 425-3006

Pride Center of VT: (802) 860-7812

Trans Lifeline: 877-565-8860

The Trevor Project: 866-488-7386

 

GET INFORMATION AND LEGAL HELP

For more information about your rights and protections, and for referrals, you can contact GLAD Answers, GLAD’s free & confidential legal information line. Your LGBTQ and HIV legal rights resource!

 

 

 

 

May 2022