Harassment policy passed; some say it’s too complex

Monitor Staff
Published: 8/12/2020 2:57:48 PM

The Concord School Board voted 7-0 to approve a sexual harassment policy that complies with federal Title IX guidelines mandated by U.S. education secretary Betsy DeVos. Despite the unanimous vote, school board members said the policy is too dense, and that there’s still work to do to ensure victims come forward.

Karen Fischer-Anderson, the district’s Title IX coordinator, modified a 22-page model policy that the New Hampshire School Board Association created based on DeVos’s requirements that go into effect Friday. Fischer-Anderson’s modifications were to make the policy apply more specifically to Concord, and to make the legal jargon more reader-friendly.

“This is a really, really unwieldy, not a particularly friendly document,” Gina Cannon, vice chair of the school board’s policy committee said at Monday’s virtual special school board meeting. “It lays out the required policy and procedure for someone who is making a very, very narrow type of claim.”

The policy mostly covers the procedures and methods that students, employees and third-party contractors can use to report sexual harassment in an education environment. It was written specifically for colleges and universities, but applies to K-12 education as well.

DeVos’s federal guidelines have received criticism from some victim advocacy groups, who say the changes aren’t victim-friendly.

Cannon said she doesn’t like the policy because she said it favors offenders’ rights, giving a longer time frame and more opportunities for offenders to offer explanations and excuses for alleged behavior.

“We don’t have a choice, we have to approve it. This is part of federal law that we are required to do,” Cannon said. “I don’t like it. My personal opinion is that it will tend to make victims less willing to come forward.”

Fischer-Anderson, in her updates, tried to make the policy more specific and offered additional contact resources to victims and a wide range of ways to report.

“We want you to come forward, we want you to report,” Fischer-Anderson said. “I don’t care if they’re writing on a napkin. They can get it to me any way they want. They can get it to any employee in the district.”

Fischer-Anderson is working on making the policy more reader-friendly, and will be making posters, a 10-15 minute video that explains the policy verbally and an FAQ page and flowchart to post on the school website.

“It’s about awareness and training. I hope to be out with the parents, I hope to be in the classroom with kids,” Fischer-Anderson said. “It is vital for me and [superintendent Kathleen Murphy] and the leadership to make sure that our employees are aware that not only do they have a mandatory reporting obligation for abuse and neglect, once they have ‘actual notice’ they have a responsibility to report.”

Cannon also said that some of the district’s existing sexual harassment policies will have to be updated to comply with DeVos’s terms, with small changes like switching the role of the “human rights director” over from the superintendent to the Title IX coordinator.

Since the federal guidelines go into effect Friday, the Board voted to waive the first and second readings of the harassment policy, a practice that is usually required under school board rules, and instead move straight to adopting it.

Both the motion to waive the reading rules and the motion to adopt the policy passed on a 7-0 vote. Board member Chuck Crush was not present at the meeting, and David Parker did not vote due to a technology issue with Microsoft Teams.

The Concord School Board will have another meeting on Sept. 16 where they will discuss their own ideas for changing the district’s sexual assault and harassment policies in light of alleged misconduct about former teacher Howie Leung.


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