Two federal agencies have finished monitoring the Tehachapi Unified School District and its efforts to prevent gender-based discrimination and sexual harassment that were sparked following the suicide of a bullied middle school student.
TUSD was informed Wednesday that the U.S. Department of Justice, Civil Rights Division and the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights found that TUSD had fulfilled the terms of a June 30, 2011 agreement to address school climate issues.
That comes nearly eight years after the agreement was penned.
“While we rejoice in the decision, all of us need to remain committed to teaching our students to respect each other and our differences,” Paul Kaminski, interim superintendent of the district, wrote in an email to Tehachapi News.
The monitoring stems from a complaint filed by a parent of Seth Walsh, a gay 13-year-old student who hanged himself in 2010 after being bullied at Jacobsen Middle School, Kaminski confirmed. Walsh is not named in the letter sent to the district.
His mother could not immediately be located for comment, but the DOJ said a parent would receive a copy of its letter.
The case drew national attention. Then-Gov. Jerry Brown signed Seth's Law, which mandates school districts have policies against harassment and discrimination.
The federal investigation in TUSD found that “the harassment was sufficiently severe, pervasive, and persistent to interfere with and limit his ability to participate in and benefit from the services, activities or opportunities offered by the district ... and the district did not adequately investigate or respond appropriately as it is required to do by federal law," the agreement stated.
The agreement added that the district violated the “federal prohibitions against sex-based harassment under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972.”
Even though the district did not agree with these findings, it consented to develop and implement polices, educate students and regularly assess and address the effect of “peer-on-peer harassment at the district’s schools,” said the agreement.
Each year the district conducts Title IX training regarding sexual harassment that administrators and directors attend and that will continue, along with the Safe and Inclusive lessons for all grades, Kaminski said.
The TUSD board approved the Safe and Inclusive Schools anti-harassment curriculum for each educational stage. The lessons teach children how to identify types of bullying, how to react to a situation, be a defender in bullying situations, and how bullying impacts students with a mental or physical disability.
The district appointed an official to review each possible reported sex-based harassment incident, investigate, interview witnesses, review discipline referrals, contact the parents and respond to all incidents in a timely manner, said the agreement.
“Tremendous efforts took place to create the Safe and Inclusive lessons for all grades and then teachers spent a large amount of time preparing and delivering those lessons to our students every year. Administrators spent hours filling out five-page reports for each sex or gender incident, then principals were required to file a report semi-annually for their site,” Kaminski said.
Walsh's mother filed suit against TUSD in July 2011 seeking compensation for wrongful-death, punitive damages and medical expenses, according to previous reports. She settled for $750,000.