April 22, 2024 The Newspaper Serving LGBT Los Angeles

U.S. Education Department to Probe Alleged Sex-Based Harassment at Owasso Schools

HRC Complaint Triggers Investigation into School’s Response to Nex Benedict’s Death

In response to a formal complaint filed by the Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the U.S. Department of Education has initiated an investigation into Owasso Public Schools regarding allegations of the school’s inadequate response to sex-based harassment. 

The complaint was raised by HRC President Kelley Robinson, who penned a letter to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona, urging the department to use its enforcement mechanisms to prevent future tragedies and hold those responsible for the death of Nex Benedict, a 16-year-old 2STGNC+ (Two Spirit, transgender, or gender nonconforming+) teen of Choctaw heritage.

Robinson’s letter stated, “Nex’s family, community, and the broader 2SLGBTQI+ (two-spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex+) community in Oklahoma are still awaiting answers following their tragic loss. We appreciate the Department of Education responding to our complaint and opening an investigation–we need them to act urgently so there can be justice for Nex and so that all students at Owasso High School and every school in Oklahoma can be safe from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.”

The Department of Education’s letter to Robinson stated, “The U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is opening for investigation the above-referenced complaint that you filed against the Owasso Public Schools (the District). Your complaint alleges that the District discriminated against students by failing to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment, of which it had notice, at Owasso High School during the 2023-2024 school year.”

The investigation aims to shed light on the circumstances surrounding sex-based harassment and determine if the school district failed to respond appropriately during the specified school year.

According to the letter, OCR is opening the following issues for investigation:

Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title IX.

Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Section 504 and Title II.

HRC sent a second letter to the Department asking it to promptly begin an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as well as the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters. 

In addition, Robinson wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into Nex’s death.

Robinson wrote to Dr. Margaret Coates, superintendent of the Owasso school district in Oklahoma, calling for the superintendent to take advantage of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools program— the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ+ and gender-inclusive training and resources — and offering to bring experts to the district immediately.

in NEWS
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