Tuesday, October 26, 2010

U.S. Dept. of Education says bullying based on sexual orientation or religion may be illegal

Harrassment rooted in sexual orientation or religious differences may be violations of federal civil- rights protections, even though those groups are not specifically mentioned in the applicable federal law, the U. S. Department of Education is telling state and local school officials today.

Russlyn H. Ali, the department's assistant secretary for civil rights, noted that "Title VI of the Civil Rights Act already prohibits discrimination on the basis of race, color, or national origin, Title IX prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex and Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973, as well as the Americans with Disabilities Act, prohibit discrimination based on disability status," Christina A. Samuels reports for Education Week. "Many local districts and schools have anti-bullying and harassment policies that go beyond those protected groups."

Ali added that "even when local agencies do not have such policies, federal law imposes obligations on schools," Samuels writes. New guidance from the department notes "harassment of gay, lesbian, bisexual, or transgendered students may be a form of gender stereotyping and therefore a federal offense." The department notes in a "Dear Colleague" letter to schools, colleges and universities, "harassment against students who are members of any religious group triggers a school's Title VI responsibilities when the harassment is based on the group's actual or perceived shared ancestry, or ethnic characteristics, rather than solely on its members' religious practices." (Read more)

"The agency is digging deep into case law that prohibits gender-based harassment," reports Fawn Johnson of National Journal. "There isn’t a federal civil rights statute that explicitly protects people based on their sexual orientation, but the courts have held that same-sex harassment based on gender stereotypes is unlawful." (Read more)

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