Van Shaver, a Loudon County, Tennessee School Board budget committee member, is continuing what appears to be a criminal harassment campaign against 1) out gay student Zac Mitchell — who attends Lenoir City High School, evidently not in Shaver’s district — and about whom a senior year book entry titled “It’s OK to be Gay” was written; 2) James Yoakley, the Lenoir English Department head and; 3) people in Mitchell’s and Yoakley’s community who come to their defense.
Shaver has only been able to provoke continuing social turmoil by attacking a gay student, an English teacher and others, because people apparently are not aware of the laws that prohibit Shaver from harassing them.
This blog post is intended to educate the victims, to instruct them on the proper actions they now should consider taking in their own defense, and to serve as a model to others eventually in any similar situation. TNCRM previously reported on the matter here.
A United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights “Dear Colleague” letter dated October 26, 2010 makes clear that under Title IX of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, all students are protected against harassment on the basis of gender non-conformity. Gay male students like Zac Mitchell are protected against being harassed for being gay, because — to quote from the Dear Colleague letter “the harassing conduct is based in part on the student’s failure to act as some of his peers believed a boy should act.”
Van Shaver — in one of his fatuous blog posts on the matter – thinks he is acting within the law to 1) suggest to the Lenoir City School District officials’ that they should fire James Yoakley on alleged grounds of improper conduct, and then 2) to mount a harassment campaign against various victims. “Exercise your authority,” Shaver preposterously wrote to school district officials.
In truth, by contrast, “improper conduct” under Title IX would have occurred had Yoakley refused to allow the “It’s OK to be Gay” entry in the high school year book, only because it treats Zac’s being gay.
The ugly social turmoil Shaver’s gay-bashing bigotry has occasioned in the environs is taking place as an acrimonious back-and-forth argument between bigots and enlightened human beings. Some bigots are demanding — with no right to do so — that Zac be excluded from his high school graduation ceremony. Others are adding to Van Shaver’s harassment campaign against Zac, by threatening to rip his page out of the year book at the ceremony. Some of the victims have been writing general letters to Van Shaver, which is not the proper course for getting Shaver to cease and desist his harassment of them.
The harassment appears to be against the law, and all victims of it should consider taking the following steps to hold their harassers legally accountable.
Superintendent Miller and Principal Millsaps should have known education law well enough to have nipped Van Shaver’s harassment campaign against their students and faculty in the bud. Principal Millsaps in particular is abdicating his responsibilities; he has tried to distance himself from the controversy by telling the media that he was not involved with approving the year book entry about Zac — that is entirely beside the point; Millsaps has a duty to stop the bullying of Zac, but is not stopping the bullying. He should immediately organize a school-wide assembly, explaining that Title IX protects Zac’s right to a fear-and-harassment-free learning environment, and that sex-discrimination-based bullying of Zac will not be tolerated in the school.
2) Each victim should file a Complaint with the regional office of the Office of Civil Rights, which is in Atlanta. Instructions for filing a Complaint can be found on OCR’s website. If any victim has a question about how to file a complaint, call the office in Atlanta at (404) 974-9406 or send them an e-mail at OCR.Atlanta@ed.gov
3) Gay student Zac Mitchell and English teacher James Yoakley should go to the police, file a harassment complaint against Van Shaver and ask for orders of protection against him. They should go to the police with a detailed record of Van Shaver’s harassment campaigns against them. Zac’s parent or guardian, and Yoakley should consider signing with contingency attorneys to bring a civil suit against Van Shaver, Shaver’s school district and the Lenoir school district. Zac and Yoakley should consult with professional therapists, to discuss the negative psychological impacts of Van Shaver’s harassment campaign against them; the therapists’ notes will prove helpful in the OCR investigations as well as in any eventual lawsuit against Van Shaver.
4) The victims should send letters via certified mail, return receipt requested, to Kevin S. Huffman, Commissioner of the Tennessee Department of Education, explaining Van Shaver’s harassment campaign against them, and the fact that Lenoir schools Superintendent Miller and Lenoir City High Principal Millsaps have failed to protect them against the apparent criminal harassment campaign, which appears to be violating Zac Mitchell’s rights under Title IX. The letters should ask Commissioner Huffman what steps he will take to educate all public school officials in Tennessee about minority students’ Title IX rights.
5) Victims should contact the office of Tennessee Attorney General Robert E. Cooper, Jr. to explain that Van Shaver has come totally unhinged and is attacking them in apparent violation of the law. If any victims who attempt to make a harassment complaint against Van Shaver with their local police find that the police refuse to take the complaint, those victims should complain to A.G. Cooper that the police are not taking an apparent criminal matter seriously enough.
6) Victims should document any and all additional harassment and/or defamatory publications that Van Shaver — and/or other bullying bigots — might direct against them, and report each single additional act of harassment to police and to the Attorney General.
Those steps should suffice to get Van Shaver to stop his harassment campaigns, but if they don’t, victims may contact me for further advice via a private Facebook message. Moreover, victims should know that Lenoir City Schools Superintendent Miller, Lenoir City High School Principal Millsaps and all other Lenoir public school officials, teachers and staff are responsible for guaranteeing that Zac Mitchell has a non-hostile public school environment through to his graduation. Bully students’ threats to rip his year book page out of the year book, because it says “It’s OK to be Gay” clearly are a hostile form of intimidation and therefore, violate Zac’s Title IX rights; those bullies must be disciplined.
New York City– based novelist and freelance writer Scott Rose’s LGBT– interest by– line has appeared on Advocate .com, PoliticusUSA .com, The New York Blade, Queerty .com, Girlfriends and in numerous additional venues. Among his other interests are the arts, boating and yachting, wine and food, travel, poker and dogs. His “Mr. David Cooper’s Happy Suicide” is about a New York City advertising executive assigned to a condom account.
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