National News

Nex Benedict’s school district under investigation by Department of Education

todayMarch 2, 2024


J Pat Carter/Getty Images

(OWASSO, Okla.) — The Department of Education is opening an investigation into Owasso Public Schools where student Nex Benedict, a member of the 2SLGBTQ community, got in a fight with several other students the day before they died, according to a letter from the agency obtained by ABC News.

The investigation follows a complaint from the Human Rights Campaign alleging that the District discriminated against students by failing to respond appropriately to sex-based harassment 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,” said Kelley Robinson, president of the Human Rights Campaign. “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.”

The Owasso Public Schools said in a statement that they received notice of the investigation.

“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,” the statement read in part.

In a past statement to ABC News, the district also said that the “safety and security of our students is our top priority and we are committed to fostering a safe and inclusive environment for everyone.”

“Bullying in any form is unacceptable,” the statement read. “We take reports of bullying very seriously and have policies and procedures in place to address such behavior.”

In the letter, the Department noted “that opening the complaint for investigation in no way implies that OCR has made a determination on the merits of the complaint.”

Anti-LGBTQ bullying and violence have been the center of conversation in the aftermath of Nex’s death earlier this month, as Nex Benedict’s family calls for action and answers concerning the bullying they say Nex faced in school.

“The Benedicts know all too well the devastating effects of bullying and school violence, and pray for meaningful change wherein bullying is taken seriously and no family has to deal with another preventable tragedy,” the family said via their attorney in a statement to ABC News.

Authorities are awaiting the full results of the autopsy and toxicology reports for more insight into the circumstances surrounding the teen’s death. The state medical examiner’s office will determine the final cause and manner of death.

The HRC also joined about 350 local, state, and national organizations in an open letter calling for state Superintendent Ryan Walters’ immediate removal from office for, the letter claims, “fostering a culture of violence and hate against the 2SLGBTQI+ community in Oklahoma schools.”

The letter – which was created and circulated Wednesday by the advocacy groups Freedom Oklahoma, GLAAD, Human Rights Campaign, and the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN) – also demands an investigation into the state Department of Education “to determine what actions and policies have led to a culture where rampant harassment of 2SLGBTQI+ students has been allowed to go unchecked.”

In a statement to ABC News, Walters called the letter a “standard tactic of the radical left, and they will stop at nothing to destroy the country and our state.”

Walters further accused critics of engaging in a “desperate political game” that seeks to “exploit the death of a young Oklahoman. I will never stop fighting, I will not play woke gender games, and I will not back down to a woke mob.”

ABC News’ Tesfaye Negussie contributed to this report.

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