Friday, December 17, 1999
CSC responds to concerns surrounding harassment issue
The Carlisle School Committee would like to take the opportunity to respond to some questions raised by concerned citizens in the last two weeks. We would like to stick to facts as we know them. We wish no one any harm in this exchange of information.
How does someone get help with concerns they might have at the schools?
The School Handbook provides easy-to-follow information about whom to bring your concerns to regarding academic progress, discipline issues, social progress, bus behavior, classroom events and placement, curriculum issues, special education, school building use or any other thing at all. Issues involving sexual harassment, hazing, smoking or discipline procedures for students with special needs are addressed in the State Mandates section of the handbook. You may always call a school committee member with any concerns you might have after exhausting all other avenues of seeking help as described in the handbook. The basic guideline is to work from the bottom up.
What is sexual harassment?
The legal definition of sexual harassment is: unwelcome advances, requests for sexual favors and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature when:
· submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual's success as a student or employee;
· submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis of educational or employment decisions affecting such individuals; or
· such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual's educational or employment performance, creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive environment.
There is also a long list of examples (some explicit) of sexual harassing conduct in the Revised Sexual Harassment Policy at the Carlisle Public Schools which was sent home last week and is available in the school office.
What can you tell us about the recent allegations of sexual harassment at the school?
The school has had two complaints of sexual harassment regarding one individual which were handled through the procedures of the old policy.
The first complaint of several years ago was resolved at the informal level. Recently, two individuals from the first complaint wrote letters to the Mosquito that the behavior stopped for awhile, then started again. The school was not informed until last month that the behavior was alleged to have started again.
The second complaint received last year was unresolved at the informal level. The school committee stands behind the steps taken by the superintendent to try to reach resolution of this second complaint. Additionally, an impartial hearing by an outside mediator was offered to the complainant. The offer was declined. The next step in the process would have been a formal level of complaint, which at the time [under the old policy] was a meeting with the school committee. The complainant exercised their right to skip this step and filed a complaint with the Regional Office of Civil Rights (OCR) for the U.S. Dept. of Education. The school had to file a request for a copy of the complaint under the Freedom of Information Act. The OCR conducted an investigation of the allegations. We were advised by legal counsel not to meet with the complainant while an investigation was ongoing. Before the results of the OCR investigation were issued, part of the same complaint was made to the Massachusetts Commission Against Discrimination (MCAD). The OCR then abandoned the part of the investigation that overlapped with the MCAD and issued a finding of "insufficient evidence to support the complainant's allegation of retaliation. Therefore, we are closing this complaint effective the date of this letter." (October 22, 1999) The school committee was advised by counsel not to settle on this case. A letter to the editor of the Mosquito newspaper reported that the complaint at MCAD had been withdrawn. This week, the school committee received verification from MCAD that the complaint has been withdrawn.
Why can't the school committee be more forthcoming with information about the alleged sexual harassment cases at the school?
Schools (children, teachers, administrators, other staff and School committees) regularly have to address difficult and sensitive situations and information regarding members of their community. These issues can include illness, grief, substance abuse, marital/family issues, harassment and other legal issues, to name a few.
Procedures are in place (through public process) in contracts and school policies to protect the privacy and rights of the individuals involved in these situations. Student contact with guidance counselors (or other staff) is especially guarded to insure that all students recognize that they do have a safe place to go with their concerns and confidences.
Besides reviewing and revising the sexual harassment policy and cooperating with an investigation of alleged sexual harassment, has anything else been done to improve the ability of the school to deal with issues of sexual harassment?
The entire school staff underwent a sexual harassment training session with a lawyer at the beginning of this school year. The school staff takes this issue very seriously and is committed to creating a working and learning environment in which sexual harassment is not tolerated. New staff members will be trained as needed. The school committee has the utmost confidence in the administration and the entire staff in carrying out this commitment in a highly professional and caring manner.
Why hasn't the school committee met with all sides of the current dispute in executive session?
Individuals can request to meet with the committee in executive session under certain circumstances. The school committee cannot force people to meet in executive session. Open, public meetings may be attended by anyone. There are Massachusetts State laws which govern executive and open sessions of governmental meetings as well as privacy issues of individuals. Items may be put on the agenda by request to the committee chair. The committee can agree to stray from the agenda but it is not good policy to do so because individuals who would have liked to hear the discussion would not have known it was on the agenda. These procedures are outlined in Robert's Rules of Order and are followed in order to maintain fairness and civility in conducting public business.
Important considerations to remember
The school committee and the school staff are mandated to maintain confidentiality to the greatest extent possible.
The school committee is committed to providing an environment which is supportive and appreciative of the excellent staff that we currently have and attractive to any future staff. This includes maintaining an environment free from harassment of any sort.
Creating and maintaining the environment in which our children learn is a shared partnership between all parents, school staff, students, the school committee and the entire community. The strength and success of our school depends on the strength of this partnership.
© 1999 The Carlisle Mosquito