Sexual harassment doesn’t just happen in the workplace, among peers, it can also happen in city schools, among students.
And a citywide panel voted Tuesday to make the guidelines on what constitutes sexual harassment clearer, and to clarify how school officials should handle these complaints.
“Bottom line schools must be safe and inclusive environments for all students,” said Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza.
The new regulations offer a detailed definition of sexual harassment, behavior that can range from pressuring another student for sexual activity to leering or sexual flirtation. It also includes digitally stalking a classmate or taking or sharing suggestive images or videos.
Investigations will continue to be handled by school officials, but for the first time, those officials will be required to attend in-person training. But the union representing principals argues this should not be an administrator’s job — with a representative saying tonight the regulations are quote “not grounded in reality.”
“We have long advocated that school leaders should not be conducting school-based investigations, let alone reaching legal determinations on what constitutes sexual harassment, discrimination and bullying. School leaders are experts as instructional leaders. They are not investigators. They are not attorneys,” said Peter Devlin, Council of School Administrators and Supervisors.
Saying he was speaking broadly, Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza fired back at that argument.
“That’s part of your job; if that’s not something you like to do, don’t be an administrator. So I want to be really clear about this, this is about protecting kids. This is about children’s agenda, not an adult agenda,” said Carranza.
Advocates for victims of harassment said the regulations were a good first step — but several pointed to ways the regulations could be improved, like focusing more on preventing harassment rather than responding with discipline after an incident has already happened.
“Making sure that school leaders are continually trained making sure most importantly that students know their rights,” said Sasha Ahuja, Chief of Staff at Girls for Gender Equity.
Earlier this year, advocates successfully worked with the City Council to get funding for the department to add seven new Title Nine coordinators, who investigate complaints of gender-based discrimination, with at least one in each borough.
These changes come as the Education Department faces several lawsuits from students who say the department failed to protect them from sexual assaults.