More Should SH Harassment. . .?

Riling/Anderson (
Thu, 14 Jan 1999 12:22:31 -0800

Rochelle Riling
Title IX Compliance Offc., Omak School District, WA State

I'd like to confirm Darcy Lee's statement that Washington State Laws
requiring SH policies and training in schools have the potential to
help. I was hired this year by a SMALL, RURAL school district to shore
up those exact policy and training requirements and to better activate
sexual harassment and discrimination complaint processes. Schools do
not have to be sued over student to student harassment. Schools have
the option of more actively preventing it and the option of providing a
process through which harassment can be addressed and stopped. A
complaint process that mutually addresses student, school and parent
concerns has the potential to create long term change.

I'm certainly not going to prematurely toot the Omak School District's
horn because this is a tough issue to address, but I am going to state
definitively that we have begun to see first hand what the process of
"things getting better" looks like. Since the beginning of this school
year, we have been processing student to student sexual harassment
complaints very carefully. Yes, it has taken some extra effort but the
extra time that is required is a plus in itself. A well
executed sexual harassment/discrimination complaint process forces an
institution to pause (no small feat) and gather careful information
during the course of enacting discipline. During that pause, the
individuals working within an institution have the opportunity to learn
things and to encourage more effective problem solving. Many of the
student to student complaints we've processed have been instances where
sexual harassment was only the tip of the iceberg. Most of the
complaints have involved a mix of different kinds of harassment, or a
larger unresolved student problem, or a kink in some other policy, or
unutilized community-based student support resources.
In some cases, we've been able to rally some extra support to address a
whole scheme of behavior ONLY because a sexual harassment complaint
enabled (required) us to take a good, slow look at the entire situation.

It looks like we're seeing a slight escalation in sexual harassment
complaints from high school students at this point and we believe that's
because there are some positive rumors spreading through the student
body that the school cares about their well-being, that there are
individuals who will take their complaints seriously and address them,
and that it is safe to ask for help.

Are some of the complaints we're processing less serious than others?
In terms of legal liability, yes. But in terms of overall school
climate and student success, all harassment complaints are serious. Appropriate
handling of student to student sexual harassment complaints will slowly but
surely enable students to speak up about the overall "culture of harassment"
that has become, as one Omak Middle School student told me "just part of who we

Although there are some astute and caring people at the Omak School
District, one of the main reasons the district took on these issues this
year is because of heightened awareness of legal liability. Omak
borders the Colville Indian reservation and we are home to a large
migrant labor population which is dominantly Mexican, so we have many
cultural challenges to address too-- not just at school but in our communities.

We have much still to do in terms of outreach to students, staff,
parents and community but I'm really proud of this little school
district for taking this step. I believe that school leaders have seen
the benefits of addressing student to student sexual harassment-- legal
requirements or no. I sure hope the Supreme Court does not rob other
school districts of that "mandated" opportunity by giving them a
comfortable loophole through which they can escape from facing student
to student harassment and discrimination issues.

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