Formal Complaint from HRC Triggers Department of Education Investigation into Owasso Public Schools Following Attacks on Nex Benedict

WASHINGTON — Today, the U.S. Department of Education informed Human Rights Campaign (HRC) President Kelley Robinson that the department will open an investigation in response to HRC’s letter regarding Owasso Public Schools and its failure to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment that may have contributed to the tragic death of Nex Benedict (he/they), a 16-year-old 2STGNC+ (Two Spirit, transgender, or gender nonconforming+) teen of Choctaw heritage. This investigation was triggered by a formal complaint made last week by Robinson, who wrote to U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona and asked his department to use the enforcement mechanisms at its disposal to prevent similar tragedies from taking place in the future and to help hold accountable those responsible for Nex’s tragic death.

The letter from the Department of Education reads: “the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), is opening for investigation the above-referenced complaint that you filed against the Owasso Public Schools (the District). Your complaint alleges that the District discriminated against students by failing to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment, of which it had notice, at Owasso High School during the 2023-2024 school year.”

“Nex’s family, community, and the broader 2SLGBTQI+ (two spirit, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex+) community in Oklahoma are still awaiting answers following their tragic loss. We appreciate the Department of Education responding to our complaint and opening an investigation–we need them to act urgently so there can be justice for Nex, and so that all students at Owasso High School and every school in Oklahoma can be safe from bullying, harassment, and discrimination.”

Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign

The full text of the letter from the Department of Education in response to HRC can be found here.

The full text of the initial letter from HRC President Kelley Robinson to Secretary Cardona can be found here.

According to the letter, OCR is opening the following issues for investigation:

  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Title IX.

  • Whether the District failed to appropriately respond to alleged harassment of students in a manner consistent with the requirements of Section 504 and Title II.

HRC sent a second letter to the Department asking it to promptly begin an investigation into the Oklahoma State Department of Education, as well as the current State Superintendent of Public Instruction, Ryan Walters. In addition:

  • Robinson wrote to Attorney General Merrick Garland asking the Department of Justice to begin an investigation into Nex’s death.

  • Robinson wrote to Dr. Margaret Coates, superintendent of the Owasso school district in Oklahoma, calling for the superintendent to take advantage of the Human Rights Campaign’s Welcoming Schools program— the most comprehensive bias-based bullying prevention program in the nation to provide LGBTQ+ and gender inclusive training and resources — and offering to bring experts to the district immediately.

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