HRC Writes to Owasso School District, Calls on Superintendent to Take Immediate Action to Protect Students: “People Across the Country are Watching”

by Kathryn Smith

Letter from HRC president Kelley Robinson offers to bring HRC’s nationally renowned Welcoming Schools Program to Owasso School District immediately

Further accounts of bullying and harassment in Owasso schools have surfaced from both current and former students, pointing to a systemic problem

Yesterday, Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign Foundation (HRC), the educational arm of the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) civil rights organization, sent a letter to Dr. Margaret Coates, superintendent of the Owasso school district in Oklahoma where Nex Benedict was a student. Nex, a 16-year old, nonbinary student whose family trace part of their roots to the Choctaw Nation, was harassed and brutally assaulted in their school’s bathroom before tragically passing away. Since Nex’s death, other accounts of bullying and harassment in Owasso schools have surfaced from both current and former students, making clear that this is a systemic problem.

The letter calls 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 offers to bring experts to the district immediately. The letter also notes that “schools cannot turn their backs or bury their heads in the sand when lives are at stake, no matter what their personal beliefs,” and implores the superintendent to take the immediate action that is desperately needed.

Our schools must be safe and affirming for all students, and today in classrooms, hallways, and bathrooms of Owasso schools, queer kids, trans and non-binary kids, and other kids who are made to feel unsafe and unwelcome are terrified to just be – to learn, to play, to be kids. The school community, the broader Owasso community, and people across the country are watching and waiting to see what you will do to protect your students.

Kelley Robinson, President of the Human Rights Campaign

HRC President Kelly Robinson writes to Dr. Coates that Welcoming Schools can provide the following services and supports:

  • Work collaboratively with your leadership team to establish enumerated policies that ensure the safety and well-being of LGBTQ+ students.

  • Provide professional development to your educators to gain the competency and confidence to provide safe and affirming learning environments for ALL students.

  • Provide proactive steps for educators and administrators to take in preventing bias-based bullying incidents from occurring and data-driven reactive measures to take when bullying does occur.

  • Provide coaching and guidance to your leadership team as you build your internal capacity for improving the school climate for all students.

Additionally, the letter notes that the Human Rights Campaign has called on the U.S. Department of Education to fully investigate the circumstances around Nex’s death.

The full text of the letter to Dr. Coates can be found here.

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