Addressing Issues of Sexual Harassment: Steps Independent Secondary Schools Can Take to Be Proactive and to Respond to Concerns
For several years, public and private colleges and universities have been in the news with regard to their responses to allegations of sexual harassment on their campuses, in part due to the increased scrutiny on this issue by the U.S. Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (“OCR”). During this time, much less focus has been placed on independent secondary schools. However, concern of sexual harassment at independent secondary schools has received increasing attention. Recently, both the St. George’s School in Middletown, RI, and Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH have faced accusations by alumni of alleged past sexual misconduct during their time as students at the respective institutions. Additionally, the St. Paul’s School in Concord, NH came under public scrutiny during the 2015 trial of graduate Owen Labrie related to charges stemming from allegations by another student of nonconsensual sexual conduct. The growing scrutiny of independent secondary schools underscores the importance of developing, providing notice of, and implementing policies and procedures to identify and respond to claims of sexual harassment.
Although Title IX requirements do not apply to independent secondary institutions, these schools may find it helpful to review guidance by OCR, as this guidance discusses requirements and expectations imposed on public elementary and secondary schools and on public and private institutions of higher education. Resources such as the 2011 Dear Colleague Letter (available here) and the 2014 Questions and Answers (available here) may aid independent secondary schools as they determine appropriate steps to take to act proactively and to respond to allegations of sexual harassment.
Steps that every independent secondary school should take include reviewing, updating, and/or implementing the following:
- Policy prohibiting harassment
- Training for staff
- Student education programs
- Climate assessments
- Clear and accessible process for community members to report incidents of harassment
- Teachers and other responsible employees who learn of possible harassment
- Student bystanders
- Procedures for investigating reports of harassment
- Plans for addressing harassment should it be found to have occurred
If you would like to discuss your own institution’s policies and procedures for identifying and addressing concerns regarding sexual harassment, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We also offer trainings for high school administrators and staff members that can be tailored to your institution’s specific policies and needs.
You can reach Elizabeth Sanghavi at (617) 274-5725.