School board policy targets sexual harassment, through lessons and penalties

November 24, 1993|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Staff Writer

Baltimore County schools will be paying more attention to sexual harassment among students and, when necessary, punishing such behavior, under a policy adopted by the school board last night.

The new "student to student sexual harassment" policy is brief and somewhat vague in its definition of harassment and appropriate discipline.

However, the policy lists specific steps school administrators can take to deter harassment, said Evelyn Chatmon, assistant superintendent for equity and staff development. Ms. Chatmon presented the policy.

Although "suspension or expulsion will be appropriate if such behavior continues," Ms. Chatmon said teachers and principals first will try to bring the students together -- then students and parents -- to get the culprit to stop.

"For so long, we have ignored this type of behavior," she said. "We are not going to ignore the behavior, and we are not going to tolerate it."

Ms. Chatmon said the policy is not a response to an increased incidence of sexual harassment, but rather is an attempt "to deal with this issue with regard to students."

School officials will attack harassment by teaching students not to inflict or tolerate it. All middle and high school students will receive copies of the booklet, "Sexual Harassment in School is No Laughing Matter," prepared by the State Department of Education.

The school system bought curriculum guides and teaching materials for its high school program, but developed its own middle school curriculum on harassment.

Elementary school teachers will talk about general harassment "in terms of annoying behavior," said Ms. Chatmon. "The principals are saying that as early as third grade, we need to deal with harassment. I suspect that many good teachers are doing this now."

The school system has prepared prototypes of anti-harassment lessons for third- , fourth- and fifth-graders, she said.

All administrators will be trained in the new curriculum early next year.

Last spring, the board adopted a sexual harassment policy governing all school employees. The policy says that any employee who sexually harasses another employee will be disciplined by verbal or written warnings, suspension, probation or termination.

In other business, the board learned that the school system is preparing a report card on itself. Forty or 50 administrators are reviewing "Great Expectations for 2000: Shaping the Vision," the school system's blueprint for educational reform adopted in 1989.

"We're looking at where we are, where we would like to be," said William Lawrence, assistant superintendent for community relations, planning and alternative programs. "We said these things are important to us. Are they still important to us?"

"Great Expectations," a year-long project involving hundreds of school and community leaders, was designed to set the direction of the schools for the 1990s.

It includes nearly 100 recommendations on instruction, students and families, teachers and support personnel, community and business, organization, facilities and finance.

Although the report may not have been publicized initially, it has been widely touted in the last year, as the school board has tried to show that it and Superintendent Stuart Berger are moving in the direction laid out four years ago. Many of the recommendations in "Great Expectations" are in line with the reforms of the last year: site-based management, multiage grouping for elementary students, and magnet schools.

Mr. Lawrence said the committee began reviewing the document in October and expects to be finished by February.

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