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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 31, 2010 - Volume 38 Issue 53
Gay teen suicide attracts attention from Feds
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Gay teen suicide attracts attention from Feds

by Shaun Knittel - SGN Associate Editor

Federal education officials are investigating a school district in a Central California town where a 13-year-old boy, Seth Walsh, committed suicide after allegedly being harassed by classmates because he was Gay.

A spokesman for Education Secretary Arne Duncan told the Associated Press on December 21 that the probe was launched in response to a complaint from Seth Walsh's mother that Tehachapi Unified District employees failed to adequately address the years of bullying that preceded her son's death last September 28.

Seth Walsh was one of at least seven Gay teenagers who committed suicide this past fall.

Last week, U.S. Department of Education investigators spent two days in Tehachapi interviewing students, teachers, and administrators. Seth's mother, Wendy Walsh, first contacted the U.S. Department of Education when her son, who hanged himself from a backyard tree on September 18, was still hospitalized in a coma.

Walsh said that anti-Gay bullying is a 'big problem that needs to be addressed, and it isn't just around Seth & it's the whole nation.'

After a national uproar over bullying and the high-profile suicides of several Gay teens ages 13 to 19, the Education Department's civil rights division responded by reminding school districts and universities they could face administrative penalties and even lose federal funding if they fail to take concrete steps to counter anti-Gay harassment about which they knew or 'reasonably should have known.'

In addition, the division clarified that even though federal civil rights laws do not cover sexual orientation, the department has authority to investigate cases so severe that school has become a 'hostile environment' for students perceived to be LGBT.

Wendy Walsh is claiming that school officials in Tehachapi neglected to take action to protect her son - or to even address anti-Gay bias in general.

Seth attended Jacobsen Middle School in Tehachapi, but twice was given permission to be home-schooled because of ongoing problems, according to a letter the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sent to the superintendent last week on Wendy's behalf.

The ACLU is demanding to know what steps the district has taken to address bullying of Gay students.

Tehachapi is a small town located between Bakersfield and Mojave in Kern County. In May, after more than a year of heated debate within the community, the school district adopted an anti-bullying curriculum for elementary schools that includes lessons on Gay families and anti-Gay bullying.

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