Karr Tuttle Campbell school law attorneys shared their spring newsletter with WFIS. We found the following excerpt to be of great use for schools:
No workplace is immune from the fallout of reprehensible behavior. But, as educators, you are also well aware that the issue of harassment in schools goes beyond conduct between two employees. Claims of peer-to-peer harassment and student activism to curtail objectionable behavior are also on the rise.
Your school likely has a family manual, student handbook, or other code of conduct that seeks to address such behavior. However, your handbooks may not adequately describe the prohibited conduct, resulting in much of the physical, visual, and verbal forms of harassing behavior going unreported. And your handbooks may not set out a clear plan of action for handling reports that are made. To keep students truly safe, schools must educate them about what harassment is and create a culture in which harassment simply is not tolerated.
This does not mean just saying, “We have a zero-tolerance policy.” It means actively taking steps to eliminate harassment and other hurtful behavior. We recommend you consider the following actions to protect your school and students:
1) Take a close look at your rules and policies. You need to be specific about the behaviors that are not allowed. Be clear about what the terms “harassment,” “intimidation” and “bullying” mean and attach clear consequences to the unwanted behavior.
2) Explain how to report undesirable conduct. Your students need to understand what to do if they are experiencing undesirable conduct. Who do they go to? Do they fill out an incident report? What will happen once they report? Especially if your policy is buried in a handbook or code of conduct, students may not know what to do or feel like their voice is being heard unless the administrators and the teachers are talking about it and talking about it often.
3) Evaluate past practices. Reflect on what types of behaviors you have seen and what you have done to address them. Are they still an issue? Have your plans to handle past harassment worked? If not, why not? Do you have ongoing issues with certain types of conduct in certain types of environments? Be honest with yourselves and open to new ways to address concerning behaviors.
4) Have students and teachers reflect on how harassment makes them feel. Talking about your harassment policies with students on a regular basis could and should be supported with appropriate opportunities for students and teachers to talk about their experiences. Consider anonymous student surveys to see what the students are saying about the school environment and what tools they think might eliminate the behavior. Similarly, discussions about what your teachers are seeing and hearing in the classroom with regard to student-to-student relationships and conflict should be regular topic at your staff meetings.