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Orange County School District Settles Harassment Suit with ACLU

September 10, 2009

The American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California (ACLU/SC) has reached a settlement agreement in the harassment lawsuit against Orange County's Newport-Mesa Unified School District and officials of Corona del Mark High School.

The agreement filed yesterday in Orange County Superior Court resolves the lawsuit filed by the ACLU's Southern California branch, on behalf of Hail Ketchum, a former student at Corona del Mar High School and the Orange County Equality Coalition, suing district educators for permitting intolerance and hostile behavior among the students, resulting in sexism, homophobia, and a death threat against Ketchum.

The school officials, as well as the school district, were accused in the lawsuit of discriminating against students on the basis of gender and sexual orientation, violating the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Title IX and California safe schools laws.

The Corona del Mar High School garnered national media coverage in February, when the principal canceled the school edition of "Rent," citing concerns over content. The musical was reinstated, and shortly after the principal resigned. The lawsuit filed by the ACLU in March, claimed that the controversy sparked by the gay and lesbian characters in the musical exemplified the school's intolerance and homophobia. The subsequent harassment at the school was also said to rise during the campaign of Proposition 8, aiming to eliminate the rights for gays and lesbians to marry.

According to the lawsuit, three varsity football players made a video that was posted on Facebook, threatening to rape and kill Ketchum, the lead actress in "Rent" and defame another student they believed to be gay. The district is accused of not responding appropriately, and therefore condoning this behavior.

The settlement outlined in an ACLU press release that the Newport-Mesa Unified School District training will be led by the Anti-Defamation League, and will include the topics of discrimination and harassment--what constitutes these actions, and who is harmed by them. The settlement also states that later in this school year, teachers, staff and students in the high school will be given two-hours training sessions, whereas principals, assistant principals, school-site administrators, and district managers will receive an eight hour program of training. The results of the student training will be monitored by the district, in the form of a survey.

Hector Villagra, director of the ACLU/SC's Orange County Office said that this mandatory training will clearly educate administrators, teachers and students on "what constitutes sexism and homophobia, but what school officials must do to deal with it - and prevent it from spreading - according to law."

ACLU Sues Orange County School Officials for Sanctioning Sexist and Homophobic Environment, ACLU Press Release, March 18, 2009

ACLU Settles Lawsuit Accusing Corona del Mar High School of Sexism, Homophobia, OC Register, September 9, 2009

ACLU, School District Settle Harassment Suit, Mercury News/AP, September 9, 2009

ACLU/SC Settles Lawsuit over Orange County High School That Tolerated Homophobia and Sexism, ACLU/SC Press Release, September 9, 2009

O.C. District, ACLU Settle Suit Over 'Rent', Los Angeles Times, September 10, 2009

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