Education Department To Investigate School District After Nex Benedict's Death

The U.S. Department of Education is opening an investigation into whether the Oklahoma school district where a 16-year-old transgender student, Nex Benedict, died after a fight in a high school restroom, failed to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment, according to a letter addressed to the Human Rights Campaign.

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), one of the country’s largest LGBTQ+ rights groups, filed complaints with the Department of Education and the Department of Justice following Benedict’s death on Feb. 8.

Benedict died one day after a fight with three other Owasso High School students, putting a spotlight on the culture of fear and harassment facing LGBTQ+ students in Oklahoma and beyond.

“This letter is to notify you that 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),” wrote Karen Mines, the Education Department’s regional director, in a letter to HRC. “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.”

The letter also notes that the Office for Civil Rights will investigate whether the district failed to follow Title IX guidelines when responding to sex-based harassment. Current Title IX law includes language that protects transgender students in any school or educational program that receives federal funding.

Brock Crawford, a spokesperson for the Owasso Public School District, confirmed by email that the district received a notice of the investigation from the Office for Civil Rights.

“The district is committed to cooperating with federal officials and believes the complaint submitted by HRC is not supported by the facts and is without merit,” Crawford said in the email.

In the days since news broke about Benedict’s death, dozens of organizations have accused Oklahoma’s state superintendent, Ryan Walters, of creating a hostile environment for LGBTQ+ and two-spirit students.

The conservative superintendent has faced backlash for appointing Chaya Raichik, the woman behind the far-right social media account Libs of TikTok, to a voluntary seat on the state’s library review committee. In 2022, Libs of TikTok targeted one of Benedict’s eighth-grade teachers, Tyler Wrynn, prompting them to resign because of the harassment.

On Wednesday more than 300 advocacy and LGBTQ+ organizations called for Walters’ immediate removal, stating that his choice to appoint Raichik, as well as his emergency rule to block a trans Oklahoma teen from changing his gender on his school records, have created a “culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQ+ students has been allowed to go unchecked.”

CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a headline on a previous version of this article mistakenly used the pronoun “his.” Benedict used the pronouns they and them.