U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights Announces Resolution of Civil Rights Investigation of California's Downey Unified School District

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U.S. Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights Announces Resolution of Civil Rights Investigation of California's Downey Unified School District

October 14, 2014

The Office for Civil Rights (OCR) announced today that it has entered into an agreement with California's Downey Unified School District to resolve a complaint about the harassment and discriminatory treatment of a transgender student. The complaint alleged that the District discriminated against a transgender student by failing to respond adequately to complaints that the student was subjected to verbal harassment by peers and that staff at the student's school disciplined her for wearing make-up, discouraged her from speaking about her gender identity with classmates and suggested that she transfer to another school.

"Our federal civil rights laws protect all students from sex-based discrimination and harassment," said Catherine E. Lhamon, assistant secretary for civil rights. "I commend the Downey Unified School District for entering into this agreement to ensure that each of its students, including transgender students and students who do not conform to stereotyped notions of masculinity or femininity, can learn in a safe, educational environment."

Prior to the conclusion of OCR's investigation, the District requested to resolve this complaint through a voluntary agreement. Under the terms of the voluntary agreement, the District will ensure that gender nonconforming and transgender students can participate fully in the District's programs and activities in a safe, educational environment.

The District committed to take the following actions:

  • Engage a consultant with expertise on child and adolescent gender identity, including experience with discrimination against gender nonconforming and transgender students, to support and assist the District with implementing the provisions of the agreement;
  • Work with its consultant to ensure a school climate free of harassment by incorporating age-appropriate information for students on gender identity, gender-based discrimination and harassment;
  • Continue to treat the student the same as other female students in all respects in the education programs and activities offered by the District, including access to sex-designated facilities for female students;
  • Notify the student and the complainant that they may request that the District develop a Student Success Plan to ensure the student has equal access and opportunity to participate in all programs and activities, and is otherwise protected from gender-based discrimination at school;
  • Ensure that the student is not disciplined for acting or appearing in a manner that does not conform to stereotypical notions of masculinity or femininity;
  • Remove all discipline imposed on the student during the 2011˗12 school year from the student's records;
  • Review District policies, procedures and regulations applicable to student participation in all programs and activities offered by the District and make necessary revisions to ensure that all students, including students who do not conform to sex stereotypes, are provided an equal opportunity to participate in all such programs and activities in a manner that does not discriminate based on sex, gender identity or gender expression;
  • Develop an implementation guide for administrators, faculty and staff that addresses how the District's gender-based discrimination policies apply to transgender and gender nonconforming students;
  • Conduct mandatory training on issues related to gender nonconformance and gender-based harassment for District and school-site administrators who have the responsibility of investigating or supervising the investigation of gender-based harassment complaints and implementing other anti-discrimination policies and procedures regarding transgender and gender nonconforming students; and
  • Conduct annual school climate assessments, including a student and parent survey, to evaluate the effectiveness of the District's bullying and harassment prevention efforts.

OCR will closely monitor implementation of the agreement to ensure that the commitments made are implemented in a timely, effective manner.

A copy of the resolution letter can be found here. A copy of the agreement can be found here.

OCR's mission is to ensure equal access to education and promote educational excellence throughout the nation through the vigorous enforcement of civil rights. The office is responsible for enforcing federal civil rights laws that prohibit discrimination by educational institutions on the basis of race, color, national origin, disability, sex and age, as well as the Boy Scouts of America Equal Access Act of 2001. Additional information about OCR is available here.