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Transgender Rights | Students | Vermont

Vermont Students Q&A

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. substantially interferes with a student’s right to a safe education regardless of whether it happens on or off school grounds (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 expression or HIV status that is intended to:

  1. substantially interfere with educational performance or access to school resources; or
  2. create an intimidating or hostile environment (16 V.S.A. § 11(a)(26)(A)).

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 (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://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 (16 V.S.A. §§ 570a (harassment), 570b (hazing), 570c (bullying)).

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.[1] 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.

[1] See http://education.vermont.gov/sites/aoe/files/documents/edu-best-practices-transgender-and-gnc.pdf.

Harassment is also explicitly prohibited at Vermont postsecondary schools, which are required to establish policies and enforcement procedures to address harassment complaints (16 V.S.A. § 14)? 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
(617) 289-0111
OCR.Boston@ed.gov

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
(802) 828-3130
http://www.state.vt.us/educ/new/html/pgm_safeschools.html

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.