By Nick Anderson
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, October 26, 2010; 12:10 AM
The Obama administration is launching a campaign to prevent anti-gay bullying and other harassment at school, advising educators that federal law protects students from many forms of discrimination.
The advisory from the Education Department's Office for Civil Rights, to be made public Tuesday, does not break new legal ground, officials said. But the officials described it as the federal government's most comprehensive guidance to date on how civil rights law applies to the sort of campus situations that in some cases have led persecuted students to commit suicide. President Obama is expected to help promote the initiative.
"We've got to dispel this myth that bullying is just a normal rite of passage," Obama said in a video posted last week on the White House Web site.
"Our goal here is to provide school districts, colleges and universities with details about when harassment can rise to the level of a civil rights violation and what they should be doing about it," Russlynn H. Ali, assistant education secretary for civil rights, said Monday. Ali wrote the advisory.
As an example, Ali noted in the advisory that a gay student might withdraw from school activities after being subjected to anti-gay slurs and other intimidation. If the school reprimands the perpetrators to stop the bullying, her advisory said, that would not necessarily be enough to ensure that students are free from harassment based on gender stereotypes.
"The school had an obligation to take immediate and effective action to eliminate the hostile environment," Ali wrote.
In another example, the advisory discussed a school in which students are subjected to anti-Semitic comments while a swastika is scrawled on a bathroom wall. Administrators might find and punish the perpetrators, the advisory said, but the school would still be responsible for determining whether Jewish or other students feel intimidated by incidents that add up to a pattern of misconduct. In that case, further action would be required.
"Discipline alone was likely insufficient," Ali wrote. Other possible steps, she said: counseling the perpetrators, publicly labeling incidents as anti-Semitic and publicizing how students can report harassment.