School District Failed Bullied to Death Teen


A federal investigation has found evidence that Tehachapi school district officials failed 13-year-old Seth Walsh who, because of pervasive anti-gay bullying, attempted suicide and died as a result of his injuries last year.

The investigation by the Office for Civil Right (OCR) at the Department of Education alongside the Department of Justice came about following a complaint made by Seth Walsh’s mom Wendy Walsh who alleged that Seth was subjected to chronic harassment by fellow classmates at his California middle school and that, even though the school was well aware of that harassment, the district failed to act in an appropriate manner.

What the investigation found makes for rather shocking reading.

After interviewing over 75 of Seth’s classmates, as well as teachers and administrators, the report found evidence that for a period stretching beyond two years Seth was routinely verbally harassed for his gender nonconforming appearance, was touched inappropriately by other students, had food and water containers thrown at him, was made the subject of rumors and verbal assaults regarding his sexuality, and that the bullying became so bad that he ceased changing in the locker rooms as he feared for his own safety; and, while these were the more frequent incidents, this is not an exhaustive list of what the 13-year-old Seth had to endure.

The report found that school administrators were aware of these problems but often times did nothing to stop such behavior and when on the rare occasions they did take action their response was, to say the least, lacking.

From the Associated Press:

Although the school disciplined at least one student who used an anti-gay slur against Seth, the federal investigators found several instances in which complaints brought to Jacobsen’s principal or vice-principal by the boy or his mother went unanswered or were handled ineffectively, even though many adults knew that Seth was picked on.

The vice-principal, for example, told Walsh “that, in a perfect word, the student would be treated equally, but that the students were at a difficult age and he could not change attitudes originating in the students’ homes.”

On another occasion, the principal gave Seth a yearbook to identify the boys who had been taunting him, but let the matter drop because the boy could not name any of his alleged harassers.

“When administrators should have been actively communicating to students the importance of treating the student with respect and of intervening on his behalf when others did not do so, they instead engaged in passive, incomplete action or inaction, creating for some students the perception that the harassment was acceptable,” the justice and education officials said.

Another troubling incident occurred when Seth requested that he be allowed to begin independent study because of being “miserable” due to being bullied. The school administration granted his request, but rather than tackle the issues that had forced Walsh to seek isolation from his peers, the administration simply noted that he required independent study because of “sexual orientation ridicule” and apparently left it at that.

The investigation goes on to note that appeals made on Seth’s behalf by his family and friends were also frequently ignored and, if acknowledged, were rarely documented by school officials.

School Disputes Report’s Findings But Will Take Action

To settle this case the school district, while disputing the assertion that its response was lacking, has voluntarily agreed to a period of monitoring over the next seven years whereby its approach to anti-harassment will be examined.

Furthermore, the district has agreed to train staff in how to better handle instances of bias-motivated bullying. The investigation also made a number of recommendations that the school is said to be keen to take on, such as regular school climate surveys and specific anti-bullying lessons.

While this is all well and good, it does not bring back the 13-year-old boy who, so devastated by this bullying and so obviously failed by his school, chose to hang himself from a tree in his own backyard.

Nor does the investigation truly get to the heart of the matter: Seth was bullied for being gender nonconforming and being perceived to be gay. However, Seth Walsh’s mother was forced to lodge a complaint on the grounds of sex-based harassment under Title IX because federal policy does not cover sexual orientation or gender identity because current law does not cover anti-LGBT bullying.

That federal LGBT-inclusive anti-bullying laws are needed is made so terribly clear here where school officials seemed indifferent, at best, to acts of anti-gay bullying perpetrated toward Seth.

The Student Nondiscrimination Act would add perceived or actual sexual orientation and gender identity to federal anti-bullying policy. The legislation currently sits in Congress and, as this case shows, it is vital that it becomes law.

Related Reading:
Seth Walsh’s Mom Speaks Out About Her Son’s Anti-LGBT Bullying Related Death
Bullied Gay Teen Who Attempted Suicide Dies in Hospital
Ellen DeGeneres has an Important Message for LGBT Youth


Photo used under the Creative Commons Attribution License, with thanks to Cesar Augusto Serna Sz


Lika S.
Lika P8 years ago

The fact that the school administration was so passive about protecting this lad, seems to permeate the fact that the school as a whole condoned or supported the bullies. Now because a person can only take so much, this young boy died, as a result of it. I wonder when will the schools actually enforce the No Bullying policy? How much blood do they need on their hands before being proactive about it? Adults turning a blind eye is actually worse than the students being bullies. So what, it's okay that an "unlikable" is killed because the school can't handle the other students? What if this same child came to school with a weapon and shot the bullies? I bet the school would be defending the bullies rather than seeing what was wrong with this situation in the first place. It's a total case of discrimination. I hope the school can at least man up and apologize to the parents and family of this boy, and learn from this incident to DO something about it. Otherwise, they may as well change the name of the school to "Bigots R Us".

bob m.
bob m8 years ago

silent aquiescence is Violence in sympathy with torment.
We have a CULTURE of hellish sympathies.
We esteem not the things of God.

Jane L.
Jane L8 years ago

This is an incident where grown adults failed to protect our children. It angers me deeply that a child had to die silently in order to be heard so loudly (that bullying is not acceptable and it is the responsibility of the community to protect him or her).

Eternal Gardener
Eternal G8 years ago

It's not the first time, nor will it be the last... just horrible!

Don Go
Don Go8 years ago

I'm a cynic, and even if I believe that it is only “in a perfect word, the student would be treated equally", it doesn't mean it's because of the environment at home.

The school has a responsibility to protect Seth where they can, and to even report home problems if there are.

Obviously the problem didn't even start at home since the mother was the one complaining.

That school is the terrible mix of apathy, cynicism, and ignorance. They're just too lazy to care about the student. If I were the mom, I'd have pulled him out of there already.

Judith Corrigan
Judith Corrigan8 years ago

What the hell is wrong with the teachers? As for saying that they cannot alter attitudes that have been taught at home,what about school rules that state 'no bullying'! It doesn't matter the reason behind the bullying it should be stopped by the staff.

Carla Manning
Carla M8 years ago


Kit Barth
Kit Barth8 years ago

And this is where someone says "we need to do something,so this never happpens again". Just like the dozens and dozens of moments just like this in the past.

Ameer T.
Ameer T8 years ago

Bullying is bad and needs to be condemned on all levels. personal as well as national where one country bully's another based on the same principles and using the same techniques for the same reasons that these bullies in schools do.

except in that case the whole nation then becomes the bully and we all become part of the oppression.

Parvez Z.
Parvez Zuberi8 years ago

Its the responsibility of school to ensure safety of student and when bullying exceeded its limit. The action should be taken against school management for failing to take action against the students involved even when matter was reported by the parents