Gay Straight Alliance Network v. Visalia Unified School District
The Visalia Unified School District has agreed to adopt sweeping reforms to address anti-gay harassment, including groundbreaking measures to train staff and students with the goal of preventing harassment before it happens.
The settlement ends a federal lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union over routine harassment of lesbian and gay students, some of whom were then forced into a special program for students with behavioral problems.
"This milestone settlement shows schools how to meet their legal obligation to not only respond to anti-gay harassment, but to actively work to prevent it," said Ann Brick, an attorney with the ACLU Foundation of Northern California. "Anti-gay harassment is a particularly big problem in schools outside major urban centers, like those in Visalia. Students there will now have a shot at being treated equally, and the rest of California and the nation will have a strong model for addressing these issues."
The settlement - which was presented this morning to the federal judge presiding over the case - requires mandatory training for all school staff and all high school students. The staff training will be designed by an outside expert, the Intergroup Clearinghouse, a nonprofit organization set up to promote tolerance. The training will be aimed at teaching staff how to intervene and remedy acts of harassment, and how to prevent them from occurring in the future. The sessions will be supplemented with annual updates.
The student training will be designed by the Gay-Straight Alliance Network, one of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit. The student trainings will be conducted "peer to peer" by other students, and will eventually be made a part of the permanent curriculum. The settlement also requires the district to:
- Adopt policies explicitly forbidding staff or student harassment or discrimination based on gender or sexual orientation;
- Name "compliance coordinators" to help parents, students and teachers with incidents of discrimination;
- Establish a community advisory group to help address discrimination and assess how the settlement is working.