Discriminatory Harassment
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Equity and Civil Rights

Discriminatory Harassment

Civil rights laws prohibit discrimination and discriminatory harassment in K-12 public schools. A protected class is a group of people who share common characteristics and are protected from discrimination and harassment under federal and state law.

These groups are protected classes under Washington state law:

  • Race and color
  • National origin
  • Religion and creed
  • Sex
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity and gender expression
  • Disability and the use of a trained dog guide or service animal
  • Honorably discharged veteran or military status

 


Students' Rights: Discriminatory Harassment
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Discriminatory harassment is prohibited in Washington public schools. When harassment is based on protected class and creates a hostile environment, schools must take steps to protect students and investigate — as soon as they know or reasonably should know — even if a parent or student does not file a complaint. This rule applies to sexual harassment, too.

Hostile Environment
Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is so severe, pervasive, or persistent that it limits a student’s ability to participate in, or benefit from, the school’s services, activities, or opportunities. A hostile environment could impact a student’s school life in many ways. Physical illness, anxiety about going to school, or a decline in grades or attendance could signal a hostile environment.

Questions, Concerns, Complaints
A discussion with your school principal, or civil rights coordinator at the school district, is often the best first step to address your concerns or disagreements about discrimination and work toward a solution. Share what happened and let the principal or coordinator know what they can do to help resolve the problem.

If you cannot resolve the concern or disagreement this way, you can file a complaint.

 


Districts — Discriminatory Harassment

Schools must take steps to protect students from discriminatory harassment. Discriminatory harassment occurs when conduct is:

  1. Based on a student’s protected class, AND
  2. Serious enough to create a hostile environment.

Discriminatory harassment can involve conduct between students, employee-to-student conduct, and conduct involving school visitors—and includes sexual harassment, too.
Sexual Harassment — Equity and Civil Rights at OSPI

Hostile Environment
Harassment creates a hostile environment when the conduct is so severe, pervasive, or persistent that it limits a student’s ability to participate in, or benefit from, the school’s services, activities, or opportunities. A hostile environment could impact a student’s school life in many ways. Physical illness, anxiety about going to school, or a decline in grades or attendance could signal a hostile environment.

Bullying Can Also Be Discriminatory Harassment
While schools are required to take action if students report they are being bullied, civil rights laws give students additional protections against discriminatory harassment. Even when student misconduct falls under a school’s harassment, intimidation, and bullying (HIB) policy, the behavior could also be discriminatory harassment if based on a student’s protected class.

Often, schools must take extra steps to protect students from this type of harassment, even if the behavior is also covered by the school’s anti-bullying or HIB policy. School staff must investigate possible discriminatory harassment—as soon as they know or reasonably should know—even if a parent or student does not file a complaint.

If an investigation reveals that bullying was based on a student’s protected class and created a hostile environment, staff must act quickly to stop the behavior and put an end to the hostile environment. The school must make sure that the harassment does not happen again.

Act Promptly and Effectively School staff must investigate possible discriminatory harassment—as soon as they know or reasonably should know—even if a parent or student does not file a complaint or ask the school to get involved. This investigation must be thorough, fair, and impartial. School staff also need to take steps to protect students when necessary, even before any investigation is complete.

If an investigation reveals that harassing conduct created a hostile environment, staff must act quickly to stop the behavior and put an end to the hostile environment.

The school must:

  1. Address any effects discriminatory harassment had on the student at school, AND
  2. Make sure that harassing conduct does not happen again.

The school must protect students and parents from retaliation by other students or school employees because they communicated concerns about discriminatory harassment, filed a complaint, or participated in an investigation.

Resources and Support

State Policy

Sexual Harassment

Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying (HIB)

  • RCW 28A.300.285 Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Prevention Policies and Procedures
  • WAC 392-190-059 Harassment, Intimidation, and Bullying Prevention Policy and Procedure

Federal Policy and Guidance

Sexual Harassment

 


Questions?
equity@k12.wa.us
360-725-6162

FAX: 360-664-2967
TTY: 360-664-3631

   Updated 6/30/2016

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