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Sexual Harassment in Schools

May 30, 2018 Charli Searcy

What to know

Sexual harassment within schools is becoming an all too familiar issue. From student on student, to teacher on student harassment, these pervasive matters are not always easily recognized or effectively addressed. In order to protect students and minimize the risks associated with sexual harassment, school administrators need to understand the problem and practical ways to prevent and resolve it.

Sexual harassment defined

The U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights defines sexual harassment as “unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature. It includes unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal, nonverbal, or physical conduct of a sexual nature.”

A few examples of this misconduct include, but are not limited to:

Physical

  • Touching someone in a sexual manner
  • Intentionally brushing up against someone
  • Embracing someone in an unwelcomed and sexually suggestive manner

Verbal

  • Making sexual comments about someone’s physical appearance, body shape/physique, weight, or clothing
  • Joking in a sexual manner
  • Making sexual sounds, including kissing noises
  • Making constant, unwanted requests for dates

Non-Verbal

  • Staring or winking in a sexually suggestive manner
  • Making sexual gestures
  • Displaying sexually suggestive images

Reduce the risk of sexual harassment in your district

School administrators can take a number of steps to minimize the risk of sexual harassment and to properly address instances of sexual harassment when they arise. Keep in mind that the following suggestions should be considered in the context of both student to student harassment and employee to student harassment. When an incident involves an adult and a student, additional legal obligations may apply, such as child abuse and State Board for Educator Certification reporting.

Review your policy

Federal regulations require schools to have a complaint policy for harassment incidents. Your policy should be sound, practical, and detailed enough to provide a clear understanding of what is and is not tolerated. However, the policy should not be so specific as to make it difficult to address each unique circumstance. Subscribers to TASB’s Policy Service should review policies DIA (LOCAL) and FFH (LOCAL).  TASB’s School Law eSource article, “Harassment and Bullying Policies in Public Schools,” provides a great foundation concerning what should be included in your respective policies for employees and students.

Create teacher/staff awareness

Train teachers, administrators, and all staff, including non-academic employees, on how to monitor interactions in their schools to readily recognize inappropriate conduct. Help them to gain a clear understanding on how to appropriately address those issues, including who needs to be notified. Policies DIA (LOCAL) and FFH (LOCAL) both require staff to report allegations of sexual harassment to the district’s Title IX coordinator. Districts must ensure that employees know who the coordinator is and when to contact him or her. Additionally, emphasize the importance of listening, responding to, and following up on any allegation of sexual misconduct.

Create student awareness

Provide age-appropriate training for students on what sexual harassment is per your policy and the repercussions for engaging in sexual harassment. Consider providing assemblies or student policy classes at the beginning of each school year or each semester to ensure the message is heard loud and clear about the intolerance of sexual harassment.

Always document

Document the district’s response to every incident of sexual harassment from the beginning to the end. This not only serves as proof that proper protocol was followed, but your district should regularly review and learn from these documents in order to identify any patterns and improve the way issues of harassment are addressed in the future.

A safe environment for students, free from harassment, should be an ultimate goal for every school district. Additionally, understanding and limiting liability risks should be an ongoing effort. Equipping your faculty, staff, and students with knowledge of what sexual harassment entails and the proper tools to address it is a great step in reducing, if not eliminating, this progressing issue.

Need to Know

Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, 20 U.S.C. 1681, prohibits discrimination based on sex and applies to any institution that receives federal funding, including public school districts and colleges. Title IX is triggered whenever discrimination occurs based on a person’s sex, which includes, but is not limited to, sexual harassment whether by another student, teacher, school administrator, or staff member.

For more information concerning liability risks, please contact TASB Legal Liability Risk Consultant, Charli Searcy at charli.searcy@tasb.org. Organizations needing legal advice or who have questions about their policies are encouraged to contact TASB Legal Services at 800.580.5345 and TASB Policy Service at 800.580.7529.

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Tagged: "sexual harassment", "Title IX"