Admininstration discusses sexual harassment preparedness


Shalah Russell, Staff Reporter

This article originally appeared in the February 14, 2018 issue of The Clarion

People all over the nation, through social media, have used the hashtag #MeToo. It is a movement that encourages people to break their silence when it comes to telling their stories of dealing with sexual harassment. The creators of #MeToo state that they are helping victims of sexual assault by “de-stigmatizing” the topic and providing a source of support for them. This movement has also created national awareness for sexual harassment in a variety of environments.

Numerous students at Riverside Brookfield High School have become interested in how this issue is dealt with at their own school. Dave Mannon, Assistant Principal for Student Affairs, also has the title of Complaint Manager, and plays a critical role in handling the school’s sexual harassment cases.

“We usually meet when we get something like that and we break down all of the information and then we formulate a game plan on how to go forward with it. We take it very seriously,” said Mannon. “It’s important that we have all of the information in front of us so we can act appropriately.”

The consequences for those students accused of committing sexual harassment aren’t always identical. The deans work on a case-by-case basis.

“We don’t have just one policy for students accused of being sexually harassed. Each incident is upon its own merit. The dean’s office will conduct a thorough investigation,” said Mannon.

Sexual harassment is a broad subject that consists of many possible acts students can commit. The student handbook outlines what falls under which category.

“Harassment or bullying on the basis of sex is the un-welcomed conduct of sexual nature, such as, but not limited to, unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other un-welcomed verbal and nonverbal, or physical conduct of sexual nature… Harassment or bullying on the basis of sex also includes gender-based, nonsexual harassing conduct, such as harassment based on gender stereotyping. It also includes harassment based on sexual orientation and gender-related identity,” the handbook states on page 38.

Sometimes, harassment issues need to be handled by a higher jurisdiction. It isn’t uncommon for the school to involve law enforcement because a large amount of sexual harassment acts are also legal offenses.

“Sometimes it may lead to legal implications so we try to make sure we have everything. If we have information, we’ll share it with the police. If they have information, they’ll share it with us,” said Mannon. “If it goes beyond harassment and becomes abuse, we’ll call local child safety agencies.”

Sexual harassment has not been an increasing concern for the deans. However, there is a major concern administrators have for all of the incidents and issues that occur under the radar due to social media. Situations that don’t happen in school are outside of their jurisdiction, and if there is no specific information on how it connects back to the school, dealing with the issue can be complicated.

“We have not seen a major increase in the office. However students are more present online, so that may lead to more conversations between them. If the school becomes aware of any sexual harassment that’s done through social media and we can tie it back to the school, then we’ll take up the issue,” said Mannon.

Despite social media causing some offenses to not receive proper attention, Mannon said that the anonymous online bully report makes reporting incidents more convenient for students.

“With our bullying report… students feel more comfortable submitting some of the things that they hear,” said Mannon.

Another group of crucial people in the process of dealing with a sexual harassment case are the school’s social workers. They often work hand-in-hand with the deans in order to come up with the best way to handle the situation. Mari Mortensen, a school social worker, said the most important thing to keep in mind is the student’s safety.

“Sometimes there can be lots of layers and it can be complicated. Sometimes we don’t really know the whole story. Part of what needs to be discussed is what [students] need in order to feel safe. A lot of it is just figuring out what we can do,” said Mortensen.

The social workers act as a source of support for the victim and help them through the process.

“You need to talk about how it started, and what made the student be in this position in the first place,” said Mortensen. “It’s important to talk with them and find out who their sources of support are, who their friends are, and who believes them.”

The administration wants to handle sexual harassment as efficiently as possible.

“My major focus is making sure that all 1,600 kids that walk in the building are safe. In that safety umbrella all of these categories fall under it. We just try to keep our finger on the pulse with what’s going on in the building. I don’t target any of them as our biggest concern. Every single one of those categories fit in with all that we’re doing here to protect students,” said Mannon.