A r c h i v e d   I n f o r m a t i o n

Protecting Students from Harassment and Hate Crime: A Guide for Schools - January 1999

Part II: Step-by-Step Guidance

Creating a Supportive School Climate that Appreciates Racial, Cultural, and Other Forms of Diversity

By themselves, written anti-harassment policies and complaint procedures will not stop or prevent harassment. Bona fide efforts to eliminate harassment from the school's programs and activities require planning, coordination, training, accountability, and supervision. Broader educational efforts are typically necessary to establish an environment that respects individual differences and promotes appreciation of racial and cultural diversity. Instructional and student activity programs provide schools with the opportunity to heighten students' awareness of the dangers of prejudice and harassment, ameliorate antagonisms or fears, counteract stereotypes, enrich student relationships, and prepare students to be positive participants in a diverse adult society.

The following activities are crucial to establishing a climate that deters harassment and supports positive responses to diversity.

Provide ample information about the anti-harassment program

PUBLICIZE THE POLICY. Adequate notification to the school community of the district's anti-harassment policy and grievance procedure is crucial to effective enforcement. For the district's policy and procedures to be viewed as standard practice, they must be widely and regularly disseminated. The school district should consider publicizing the adoption of the policy in school assemblies, in the news media, and in public events. Relevant policies and procedures should be made available in alternative formats for individuals with disabilities and provided, in a meaningful manner, for persons who are not proficient in the English language.

POST A SUMMARYA short summary of the district's anti-harassment policy and complaint procedure, written in easy to understand language, might be regularly printed in district publications, including student publications and special pamphlets, and be posted prominently at each school. This summary should identify the forms of harassment prohibited by the district, specify the personnel to contact for further information, and explain the availability of the grievance procedures.

EXPLAIN THE PROCEDURES. Fully explain to students, parents, and staff how to identify prohibited harassment and how to use the complaint procedures. New students and their parents as well as new staff should be specifically notified of these policies and procedures. In addition, the district should consider the best ways to remind students, parents, and staff of the availability of the procedures and to instruct students and staff on their application in age-appropriate ways. Consider ways in which community centers, health providers, social service and child welfare agencies, and juvenile and police authorities can be notified about the district's policies and procedures.

Invest in training of school board members, administrators, and staff

PROVIDE TRAINING APPROPRIATE FOR ROLE. Introductory and ongoing training of all school employees and agents that is appropriate to their role in the district's program is essential to an effective program. School board members should receive training as the district begins to assess its need to adopt or modify its anti-harassment policy and procedures. School staff, including coaches and school security officers, should receive information and training on the policies and procedures as soon as they are adopted through staff meetings, staff orientation, and similar activities. Non-instructional staff should receive training appropriate for their functions. For example, bus drivers and bus aides should receive training on ways to report, correct and prevent harassment on transportation routes. Staff most likely to be told by students about harassment, such as equity coordinators, counselors, social workers, school security officers, school nurses, and school disciplinarians, should receive special training.

Notify third party of their obligations

Make sure that third parties covered by the district's anti-harassment policy are notified of its provisions, including operators of job training sites, vendors, contractors, and school visitors.

TRAIN EMPLOYEES TO INVESTIGATE COMPLAINTS. Personnel designated to handle harassment complaints and all school disciplinarians should receive extensive training on investigating and resolving harassment complaints and concerns. Supervisors may need specialized training in dealing with situations in which employees are alleged to have harassed students.

TRAIN STAFF TO STOP HARASSMENT. When possible, staff should receive training focused on different types of harassment, e.g., sexual harassment, harassment based on race or national origin, and harassment based on disability. Most training materials are geared toward one of these broad types of harassment, as each type involves unique features and different victims and perpetrators. Training should include methods for on-the-spot intervention to stop and prevent harassment.

EDUCATE EMPLOYEES ON DIVERSITY PRINCIPLES. In addition to training specifically designed for implementing an anti-harassment program, the district should consider diversity education as part of its long-term training and professional development program. Look for opportunities to deepen the understanding of teachers and other employees of diverse cultural attitudes and behaviors, racial and sex stereotyping, and the types of problems faced by students at school and in the community. Staff should be trained to provide curricular and extracurricular programs and activities for students that reduce prejudice and resolve conflicts. The district may wish to invest in in-depth training of selected individuals to develop expertise and serve as resources for the district. Numerous resources are available that can help districts to meet these needs.

Educate students about harassment and discrimination, and involve them in prevention activities

STUDENT RIGHTS AND RESPONSIBILITIES. In addition to publicizing their policies and procedures, districts usually need to educate students regarding their basic rights and responsibilities. Training should enable students to identify harassment, understand its causes and effects, learn methods of opposing harassment, and feel more comfortable reporting instances of harassment. Separate training sessions may be devoted to different types of harassment.

PREJUDICE REDUCTION CURRICULA. Districts should also consider more extensive educational programs that sensitize students to diversity issues, foster understanding of others' points of view, and help students to overcome misconceptions and biases. Include prejudice reduction and sexual respect concepts in the regular curriculum. Use curricular materials and visual displays in school that present positive, unbiased images of individuals from diverse backgrounds. Numerous, excellent materials and curricula on sexual harassment and prejudice reduction are available from many sources without charge. For sources of such programs, see Appendix E [pdf format] of this Guide.

STUDENT ACTIVITY AND MEDIATION PROGRAMS. Involve concerned students, including student leaders, in activities geared to making harassment socially unacceptable and to foster social interaction of diverse groups outside of the classroom. Some observers have noted that a more positive school climate for all students can come about through routine, open communications between students and school officials regarding issues of harassment and discrimination.55

Some school districts have successfully trained students as mediators to resolve personal conflicts. Train student mediators about harassment issues. Carefully consider whether it is appropriate to use student mediators in cases of alleged sexual harassment. Foster student leadership clubs and peer education activities to address persistent and pervasive negative attitudes and behavior.56 Participate in national and regional organizations that support conferences and other efforts by middle and high school students to combat prejudice and intolerance in their own schools.

Implement monitoring programs and prevention strategies

ASSESS CONCERNS. To determine the district's need for various kinds of programs and activities and to assess the effectiveness of the programs adopted, a district or school self-assessment is necessary. Tools for self-assessment include questionnaires to be completed by students, parents and staff, on a voluntary and anonymous basis. Such questionnaires will help to expose underlying conflicts among students, including possible antipathy toward recent immigrants; the frequency and severity of sexual harassment; perceived inequities in treatment by school personnel; and other underlying attitudes and stereotypes which, if not addressed, can lead to students dropping out of school, discipline difficulties, reduced academic achievement, and instances of racial or sexual violence. Parent permission is advisable if students are questioned about their experiences and attitudes. School districts should consult with legal counsel before conducting a formal survey of student opinions and experiences. Alternatively, convene open meetings at which students and parents can voice their concerns.

CONSISTENTLY ENFORCE DISCIPLINE RULES. Districts should consider the relevance of their overall discipline policies to the maintenance of a positive school climate for all students. Creation and consistent enforcement of disciplinary rules forbidding obscenity, disrespectful language, vandalism, and harassment offers a means of protecting students from harassment of all kinds, of setting an appropriate tone in the schools, and of punishing acts of racial and sexual harassment that, looked at alone, may not rise to the level of prohibited conduct under the district's anti-harassment policy. Make sure that discipline rules are fairly applied without regard to race, national origin, sex, or other discriminatory factors.

EXAMINE THE SCHOOL ENVIRONMENT. Regular, focused observation of school activities and environments, especially less structured settings like school hallways and school buses, will identify harassment that staff may neglect to report. It is possible that, in some instances, harassment may be so widespread that no one actually reports it. Periodically examine the school site and furniture for racially and sexually derogatory graffiti.57

Monitor possible trouble spots in the school for incidents of hostility and harassment. For example, ensure that students of racial and national origin minority groups and both sexes who drop out of courses and activities in which they are under-represented have not been subjected to harassment.

APPLY PREVENTION STRATEGIES. Discuss with faculty advisors and student leaders involved in school plays, newspapers, elections, and yearbooks the harm that can result from thoughtless jokes or ridicule and ways to avoid needless damage to the school environment.

Some schools have adopted instructional intervention programs to handle relatively minor incidents of conflict or harassment that stem from ignorance or misunderstanding and that might better be considered opportunities for teaching appropriate behavior rather than punishment.58 Consider whether the district could benefit from such approaches.

Many sources of expertise are available without charge, including the agencies and organizations listed in Appendix D [pdf format]. Observe or obtain information about promising practices in other schools.

Define compliance coordinator's duties

Functions of the compliance coordinator generally include: (1) Informing top school officials of complaints and reports of harassment; (2) Investigating complaints and/or advising and assisting other personnel to handle complaints and reports of harassment properly; (3) Maintaining and analyzing documentation of all harassment incidents covered by the anti-harassment policy; (4) Regularly reviewing the effectiveness of the district's efforts to correct and prevent harassment and proposing improvements; and (5) Regularly assessing the effectiveness of training for staff, administrators, students, and parents and proposing improvements.

Involve parents and community members in anti-harassment efforts

Establish community partnership programs to combat harassment and prejudice in the school and community and consider workshops and other activities to increase parent and family involvement.

Use materials such as plays, speakers, films and videos to help the school community understand harassment and the consequences of failing to overcome it. Use materials appropriate to the age, family relationship, language and culture of the reader. Materials are available, often without charge, from the sources listed in this Guide.

Appoint one or more employees to coordinate district's anti-harassment activities

LEGAL REQUIREMENTS. The regulations implementing Title IX, Section 504, and Title II of the ADA require school districts to appoint an employee to coordinate the district's compliance under these statutes.59 The regulations require that the name, address, and telephone number of the coordinator be periodically announced in district publications. The appointment and training of one or more skillful coordinators will be key to the success of the district's anti-harassment program.

Although not required by federal law, consider the appointment of an individual to coordinate the district's activities to address racial and national origin discrimination, and other types of harassment and discrimination covered by the district's policy.

The district should expect the coordinator(s) to take an active part in promoting nondiscrimination and developing or coordinating strategies to prevent and correct harassment. Consider appointing an administrator with known interest and expertise in the area. If the coordinator is not knowledgeable in the area, substantial training should be provided.

Consider the advantages and disadvantages to appointing personnel to serve as coordinator in more than one area of harassment. Consider diversity factors, time constraints, personal interest and expertise, possible joint activities, and similar factors.

Make sure that the coordinators have adequate time and support to effectively execute their duties and that the coordinators are encouraged and allowed to share information regarding district needs with district administration.

Maintain an adequate record-keeping system, and regularly evaluate the data collected

In order to ensure that its policies and procedures are consistently followed, a school will normally need to create and maintain documentation of all harassment incidents, including notations as to how the harassment was addressed. The record-keeping system should be sufficient to allow the district to monitor district schools for repetition of harassing behaviors and to determine if institutional remedies are needed to address patterns of harassment and prevent future incidents.

The system of documentation should incorporate all incidents of harassment that come to the district's attention, not only formal complaints of harassment.

The record-keeping system should be centralized and kept in a secure place. Records may also be kept in a secure location at the building level for ready reference by authorized persons. Specific individuals should be assigned and trained to maintain the records involved. A written description of the record-keeping system may be helpful.

Districts should consider establishing a process to track and analyze harassment reports and to regularly evaluate all aspects of the district's anti-harassment program. The review could be assigned to the compliance coordinator. A committee of employees, parents, and others, including the coordinator, could also perform this function; however, care must be taken not to reveal personal information about the individuals involved in the incidents to unauthorized persons. Data regarding the frequency, severity and types of harassment occurring, staff compliance with the policy, and effectiveness of various remedial actions should be reviewed. The review should be followed by specific actions to address any shortcomings identified. Although the goal of an effective anti-harassment program is to prevent or reduce the incidence of harassing behaviors, schools should anticipate that, due to the heightened awareness of the school community, a new anti-harassment program may result in an increased incidence of reports and complaints.

Fully document all instances of suspected harassment

Documentation of harassment incidents should include the name, age, race, national origin, sex, and disability status, as relevant, of the victims and harassers, the names of witnesses, a description of the incident, information on the severity of the incident, when and where the incident occurred, the relationship of the incident to other incidents of harassment, the names of personnel conducting the investigation, any findings made, and any corrective action taken. Harassment may be related to more than one prohibited basis, e.g., race and national origin or sex and race. In such instances, all bases of the harassment should be recorded.


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