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US probing school district over nonbinary teen's death

By Agence France-Presse Published Mar 03, 2024 10:00 am

The US Education Department is opening an investigation into an Oklahoma school district where a nonbinary student died a day after clashing with three other students.

In a letter sent Friday to the Human Rights Campaign—the largest LGBTQ political lobbying organization in the United States—the department said the probe would assess whether the district had failed to respond appropriately to "sex-based harassment."

The student, a 16-year-old named Nex Benedict who identified as nonbinary, was in an altercation with three girls in a restroom in their high school in the city of Owasso, witnesses and the student's mother said.

Benedict was seen by a school nurse but was sent home. 

Police were not contacted until Sue Benedict, the student's mother, phoned later in the day from a hospital emergency room. 

People attend a candlelight vigil for 16-year-old nonbinary student Nex Benedict in Tulsa, Oklahoma.

In a video released by police, Nex Benedict told police from a hospital bed that Nex had poured water on three girls after being mocked over "the way that we dress... All three of them came at me."

Sue Benedict told police that Nex had been "jumped" by the three, adding, "I'm furious that the school just kind of said, 'Come get your kid.'"

The following day Nex Benedict fell ill at home, was rushed back to the hospital, and died.

Sue Benedict and others told local media that her child had been bullied by fellow students for more than a year.

No cause of death has yet been formally determined, but the case has sparked outrage from gay and transgender advocacy groups.

Oklahoma has a law prohibiting students from using bathrooms not in alignment with their sex at birth.

The school district said in a statement that there had been "speculation and misinformation" about the altercation, and it noted that the fight was brief and that all those involved had walked under their own power to a nurse's and an assistant principal's office. (AFP)