Biden Education Department Investigating Allegations of Discrimination Against LGBTQ Students in Connecticut Middle School

The Biden Department of Education is investigating a complaint made by the parent of a Farmington, Connecticut middle school student who claims school administrators failed to protect her “nonbinary” child from bullying.

According to a report Sunday at the Hartford Courant, Melissa Combs, mother of Miles (fictitious name), an eighth-grade student at Irving A. Robbins Middle School (IAR), filed a “19,000-word, 54-page complaint” with the U.S. Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights (OCR):

In the complaint, Combs alleged that the school district engaged in “a pattern of discriminatory actions related to the Gender Sexuality Alliance Clubs at … IAR … and to their gender/sexual identity.”

The Courant noted Combs alleged that she and other parents were not informed about events that took place at their children’s school.

“When you go to the district’s policies and look whenever a student reports something, the policy says the parent has to be notified,” Combs said. “I’ve never gotten a phone call about anything Miles reported to the counselor. I was never called. My husband was never called and told that our children reported this. If that policy was followed, a lot of us would have known a lot earlier and this would have been a very different experience.”

Miles, who apparently identifies as “nonbinary” and prefers the pronoun “they,” said it is not clear whether “coming out as nonbinary” in seventh grade “was worth it,” due to the experience of “getting bullied all the time.”

The student alleged the bullying included classmates using the “f-slur” and the term “gay girl.”

“Every day in seventh grade I felt unsafe walking into school, walking into every single class, walking to my locker, walking to the bathroom, walking anywhere in the school,” Miles said.

The Courant reported Combs’ complaint alleged additional incidents, including:

  • Several students ripped an LGBTQ pride flag off a wall, stomped on it, and chanted “burn it.” The school allegedly took down the Gender Sexuality Alliance (GSA) Club’s Google Classroom after an LGBTQ student posted about the flag incident.
  • Another Google Classroom for the GSA Club was created but with access given to IAR Principal Nilda Irizarry and others, while comments and posting features were allegedly disabled.
  • Combs also alleged that two “trusted” GSA advisors at the school were “pushed out,” the Courant also reported. One of these advisors reportedly said the administration “did make efforts to improve the situation,” but may have “come across as heavy-handed.”
  • Irizarry allegedly began attending GSA meetings, reportedly to show support for the LGBTQ students, but these same students complained she was attempting to observe what was happening with the club.

According to the report, the GSA’s membership dropped from about 30 students down to 10, Miles complained, stating it had been “the only place I felt safe going into school unless it was the counseling office.”

“While the district has a different perspective on the factual allegations, we respect the process and will be working with OCR to assist them in their review of these issues,” Irizarry reportedly said in a statement.

Though Combs admitted IAR has done quite a bit to address academic learning loss due to the COVID pandemic shutdown, she said that progress fails to compensate for creating a safe space for LGBTQ children.

“A lot of these kids, their childhood is stolen from them because they have to learn to advocate for themselves at such a young age,” she said. “They don’t have the benefit of just being a kid.”

“The district has received an inquiry from OCR and will be working with them to assist them in response to their inquiry,” Farmington Superintendent of Schools Kathy Greider reportedly said in a statement.

Both Irizarry and Greider noted the school district has policies that pertain to equity and inclusion, though, currently, that webpage is apparently down.

The Courant noted Farmington “does not have a transgender/nonbinary policy for its students.”

According to the report, the OCR investigation is “believed to be the first of its kind in New England.”

In a press release in late June, the Biden education department’s OCR announced in a statement that it would be interpreting sex discrimination in Title IX to include sexual orientation and gender identity.

“As we celebrate the 50th Anniversary of this landmark law, our proposed changes will allow us to continue that progress and ensure all our nation’s students – no matter where they live, who they are, or whom they love – can learn, grow, and thrive in school,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona said in the statement.

The announcement specifically noted the proposed regulation’s focus on “strengthen[ing] protections for LGBTQI+ students who face discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.”

The Connecticut Star reached out to Greider for additional comment and is awaiting a response.

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Susan Berry, PhD, is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]
Photo “Person Being Bullied” by cottonbro.

 

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