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After gay student's suicide, Central California district to revise harassment policies

Federal officials announced Friday that a settlement had been reached with a Central California school district where a 13-year-old gay student committed suicide after being subjected to persistent harassment from his classmates.

Seth Walsh, a middle-school student in the Tehachapi Unified School District, was said to be the victim of merciless harassment from classmates because most of his friends were girls and he had dressed and acted in an effeminate way, investigators found.

After more than two years of being picked on, he hanged himself from a tree in his backyard in September 2010, ultimately prompting a federal investigation led by the U.S. departments of Education and Justice.

The investigation found the case — which had escalated from verbal to physical and sexual harassment — was so severe that it inhibited Seth's educational opportunities, and federal officials said the school district, located between Bakersfield and the Mojave Desert, violated the Civil Rights Act.

The agreement requires the district to revise its policies to prevent sexual and gender-based harassment in schools and offer mandatory training for students, administrators and faculty.

In addition, the district will have to circulate "climate surveys" to measure harassment in its schools and form an advisory committee of administrators, students and parents to suggest ways to improve the school environment.

rick.rojas@latimes.com

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