Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Risque behavior tests schools

Harassment 101
It's up to district officials to say
when students go too far,
but responses often vary

Two boys slap girls' bottoms in the school hallway. A first-grade girl makes kissy faces at a boy. A high school couple make out in front of other kids.

Should these students be punished for sexual harassment?

Guidelines to identify and deal with incidents like these are often open to interpretation by school administrators, who must weigh federal law with the circumstances of each situation.

The case of two McMinnville boys who were suspended for five days for spanking girls and now face sex abuse criminal charges raises questions about where schools should draw the line and what should happen to students when it is crossed.

Officials in Portland-area districts say they take all allegations of sexual harassment seriously, but what they do about them varies from school to school and case to case.

Discipline typically ranges from reprimanding the student and notifying parents to expulsion. School administrators often consider the student's age, intent and disciplinary history, as well as the severity of each incident.

"There are always extenuating circumstances in every situation, and you can never be that black and white," said Matt Utterback, assistant superintendent in the North Clackamas School District.

In contrast, students are automatically suspended or expelled for certain weapons- and violence-related offenses.

U.S. Supreme Court decisions in the late 1990s made clear that the federal Title IX law, which requires gender equity in sports, also prohibits sexual discrimination and harassment in public schools. It permits victims to file a civil suit seeking damages for harassment.

Like employers, schools must have a policy prohibiting harassment, distribute it to students, parents and staff, and take "prompt and effective action" to end harassment once school staff see it...

...In a 2001 survey of 2,064 students in eighth through 11th grades for the American Association of University Women, 40 percent of girls said they had been touched, grabbed or pinched in a sexual way without their consent. Nearly two-thirds of the girls surveyed said they would be "very upset" if that happened.

More than two-thirds of the students said they were aware that their school had a sexual harassment policy, a big jump from 1993, when only a quarter of the students reported knowing of a policy...

This from The Oregonian.


SPorcupine said...

No, there are not "always extenuating circumstances."

When a grown woman walks through Kroger, men who do not know do not try to slap her bottom. When a student of any age or gender is at school, other students should know slapping is not acceptable.

Sure, some small children come to school not knowing that. That means schools should teach a version of that lesson the first week and reinforce it through the first two year--including using gentle consequences to make the point stick. After that, firmer consequences apply. The consequence for an adult is jail time for battery. Something less may be sufficient to convince chldren to cut it out.

In any case, when a child is at school, responsiblity rests with the adults of the school system. If you want to take my son or daughter out of my sight, you'd better be serious about keeping my child safe from battery--and every unauthorized touching is a battery. If you don't want that responsibility, don't apply to work in the public schools and don't run for school board.

The Principal said...

You are correct to infer that "extenuating" is not the best word for Mr. Utterback to have used. It connotes taking the situation lightly...and that's not OK at all.

I like your second full paragraph best. You show a sensitivity to the duty of the school to teach, monitor and reinforce the rule; yet a sensitivity to the age of the accused child and prior history; and that each case must be judged on its merits. It is this professional discretion that I think (hope) Mr. Utterback was trying to describe.

The most important factor is the certainty that a broken rule will be dealt with... and effectively communicating with the child's parents greatly enhances the chances the lesson will be learned.

Some have found it helpful to judge what the rules should be based on their child being the perpetrator (for the sake of argument) rather than the victim. It tends to add the balance some folks miss if they rely on rules to do the thinking for them. It's a challenging thing for new principals to learn...and all principals to implement fairly.