Schools alerted to sex harassment

August 19, 1993|By Carol L. Bowers | Carol L. Bowers,Staff Writer

For females it's become almost a rite of teen passage, and an unwelcome one at that: the snap of the brassiere strap.

But with Anne Arundel County principals and school staff on the lookout for signs of sexual harassment, county male students had better think twice before they try it on an unsuspecting girl this fall.

"The snapping of bras has been done by teen-agers since time immemorial, but if it's repetitive, offensive and unwelcome, then it's sexual harassment," said Kris Powell, a consultant who yesterday taught Anne Arundel County school administrators attending a leadership conference ways to recognize sexual harassment.

"Teen-agers often exhibit behaviors that test boundaries, and it requires vigilance on your part," Ms. Powell said. "A lot of times a person who's confronted will say, 'Oh, I didn't mean anything by that.' Sure they didn't."

Reports of sexual harassment or the observations of school administrators must be forwarded to the special assistants to the superintendent if they involve the behavior of one staff member to another. Sexual harassment between students may be investigated by the school principal, but P. Tyson Bennett, the school system's lawyer, advised calling the central office anyway.

"Don't investigate alone," he said.

One employee asked what she should do about possible sexual harassment when students themselves are sending mixed signals.

"I asked my daughter what she would do if a boy pinched her. She said it depends on how cute he is," the woman said.

Mr. Bennett replied that it's up to school administrators to assess whether the behavior of the student or teacher was sexual harassment.

"Even if the student doesn't understand the language being used, or realize they are being subjected to sexual harassment, we have to help them make that judgment," he said.

" 'Unwelcome' is the important word," Ms. Powell said. "Complaining about sexual harassment is a very painful and traumatic experience. After the initial adjustment period, you will not get arbitrary complaints because it's simply too difficult a process to go through. The worst case is you'll find it was unsubstantiated or silly, but it's better that somebody who's been trained makes that decision."

Kevin Dennehy, principal at Annapolis Middle School, praised the training.

"It's important to have open discussion about this, so employees or students can feel comfortable enough to tell someone they're being sexually harassed," he said. "I tell my staff the same basic message about handling profanity -- whenever you hear it, you must respond, because otherwise they'll think you condone it. Now if I see or hear something suggestive, I'll say something. Even if the kids tell me it was OK or a joke, they'll have learned something."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.