Moss Point Responds to Allegations of Anti-LGBT Discrimination, Revealing Gaps in its Policies

Posted by MK on Mar 22, 2013 @ 10:18 pm

Mississippi on BlackboardThe Moss Point School District in Mississippi has issued a statement responding to allegations of harassment and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender expression. As reported yesterday, the Southern Poverty Law Center made the allegations in a demand letter sent on behalf of lesbian teenager Destin Holmes, a former student at the district’s Magnolia Junior High School.

The short statement issued by the district today raises some interesting questions and draws attention to gaps in the district’s policies.

The district’s statement reads:

We take allegations concerning bullying and harassment very seriously and have a protocol to address bullying in our schools. The school district has a policy (JBAB – Student Complaints of Sexual Discrimination/Harassment – Title IX Procedures) that is followed by all schools in the district.

We are unable to discuss the allegations at this time due to it being an ongoing investigation.

(The district also sent a letter to parents, which you can read about here.)

The district’s response is interesting because it cites to Title IX, which prohibits discrimination in education programs based on sex. If Moss Point gets sued, its lawyers may very well argue that Title IX does not apply to the discrimination and harassment alleged by Destin; they’ll probably say that what she is really alleging is only discrimination based on sexual orientation, which (they’ll claim) is not covered by Title IX. This would be a flawed argument for a number of reasons, but I would expect the school’s attorneys to make it anyway, since it’s a fairly common argument for schools to make in these situations.

But now that the district has cited Title IX in its initial response, it seems to be acknowledging that Title IX applies to the sort of discrimination and harassment alleged here. This will make it awkward, to say the least, for the district to claim later that Title IX does not apply. Hopefully, it won’t go that route.

More generally speaking, the district may have made a mistake by citing to its official policies in its initial statement, because those policies leave a lot to be desired. For one thing, they don’t seem to expressly include sexual orientation or gender identity. The “Equal Educational Opportunities” policy, for example, only covers discrimination based on “race, color, creed, sex, disability, religion or marital status.” Of course, neither Mississippi nor federal law requires Moss Point to include “sexual orientation” or “gender identity”; but nothing in the law prohibits a more inclusive policy either. Moss Point was free to make its own decision on this question, and it chose poorly.

The district’s policies are also incomplete when it comes to the issues they purport to cover. For example, the district has a policy called “Discrimination on the Basis of Race, Ethnicity, Disability, Religion, or Gender,” but that policy doesn’t expressly mention race, ethnicity, disability, or religion (except in the title). Strange. [Note: This post originally contained links to the district’s policies, but those links stopped working, so I removed them. I’ve now found the policies at a new web address, however, so I will post an update soon. The policies themselves, however, do not appear to have changed in any meaningful way. – MK 12/23/13]

None of this proves the recent allegations are true, of course. But it does raise questions about how seriously the district takes discrimination and harassment, including discrimination and harassment based on sexual orientation and gender identity and expression.

[December 17, 2013 Update: The SPLC has filed a federal lawsuit.]

MK

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