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Nonbinary student in Rhinelander faced sex-based harassment, investigation finds

The district will offer additional training, review whether the student is eligible for grade adjustments

Blue lockers line a hallway in a school building.
A student walks down a hallway with lockers Friday, Sept. 17, 2021, at Hackett Elementary School in Beloit, Wis. Angela Major/WPR

A student in the Rhinelander School District may have their grades adjusted after missing part of the 2021-22 academic year while facing harassment for their nonbinary gender identity.

The U.S. Department of Education on Thursday announced the resolution of a sex-based harassment investigation in the district. It found that the nonbinary student faced harassment in the hallways and was frequently misgendered by teachers and students. According to documents released by the department, district leaders worked with the student and their parent and issued reminders to teachers, but the district often did not keep sufficient records of incidents, or failed to classify them as sex-based harassment.

The student attended school in-person only part-time during the school year, which the complaint attributes to the district’s poor response to harassment claims.

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The complaint claims the student was misgendered by teachers and was the subject of bullying, most details of which are redacted in publicly released documents. In response to an initial complaint, a teacher told the student’s parent that two of the other students in the class would be “tough nuts to crack” and misgendered the student in her email to the parent. The teacher told investigators she had done so unintentionally, and expressed remorse. According to the complaint, the district later moved the nonbinary student out of the class; the student’s parent told investigators the district “should have removed the students who were engaging in harassment” instead.

Under the agreement the district signed, administrators will meet with the student and their parent to determine whether “grade adjustments or other academic adjustments are necessary due to the instructional time (the student) missed.” The district will also “conduct age-appropriate learning sessions for Rhinelander High School students on the district’s policies and procedures prohibiting sex-based harassment.”

Further, the district will provide training to its teachers, administrators and staff on reporting requirements under Title IX, the federal law that prohibits discrimination based on sex. The training will include instruction on the “specific types of conduct that constitute sex-based harassment, including gender identity harassment.”

The student’s name is withheld in publicly released documents, as are names of teachers, administrators and other students involved in the case. Rhinelander is a city of about 8,000 people in Wisconsin’s Northwoods. The district has about 2,300 students from the city and surrounding areas.