Our goal at Learning Courage is not to simply summarize the content on various topics related to sexual misconduct in schools. We aim instead to identify what we believe are the best practices schools should follow. We believe that having a survivor-centric, trauma-informed, compassionate approach to sexual abuse and misconduct will best help schools mitigate harm and promote healing for both survivors and school communities while also requiring the fewest resources to address.
At Learning Courage, we believe that it is important for your school to be proactive about understanding the climate of your school as it relates to sexual behavior. The best way to do this is to conduct a climate survey. There are different types of climate surveys available to understand various aspects of your school. We believe that a climate survey focused on the topic of sexual attitudes and behaviors is an essential tool for collecting both quantitative and qualitative data about what is really happening at your school.
Your school’s students, community members, and prospective families pay attention to the ways that your school supports its students and keeps them safe, which is why it is important that your school makes a concerted effort to demonstrate its commitment to student safety and well-being. Showing your commitment not only highlights your values for students and their families but also establishes a core value of caring for students.
Reports of sexual misconduct and abuse require rapid response, discretion, strong leadership, compassion, and a clear understanding of the process that has been outlined in the Employee Handbook and other policy documents. By definition, these incidents are highly charged, complex events that require those involved in the response to be compassionate while decisive in their actions, knowing what needs to be done, who needs to be involved, and what needs to be communicated.
The internet and online tools have expanded opportunities for learning by enabling the creation of more models of learning and reducing previously limiting geographic and other significant barriers to learning. Online learning also brings students and teachers out of the classroom and into more private spaces, potentially blurring boundaries that conventional classroom settings establish.
You have to be prepared to act quickly and decisively when you receive a report of sexual misconduct or abuse. Taking immediate action requires that you have a plan in place that includes an emergency response protocol. Your plan should identify specific members of the crisis team that convenes after an incident has been reported. Your crisis team should include an individual with a mental health background and a specific understanding of sexual trauma.
When discussing sexual misconduct and abuse, there are many terms and definitions that schools use. Some people may be hearing or reading them for the first time. And often they include legal jargon. This can make policies ambiguous or confusing. Thus, having a clear set of definitions and terms can help reduce ambiguity.
Employees make up the foundation of your school. They have roles that are important and valuable to promoting the climate, environment, and experiences that can positively change student’s lives. Your expectations for all employees should be clearly articulated in your school’s employee handbook.
The selection and dismissal of employees are incredibly important elements of school management that need to be handled professionally, ethically and humanely. When hiring employees, there are many factors to consider, and these may vary according to the position being filled.
As a school leader, you may believe that the need to confront historic misconduct and abuse does not apply to your institution. At Learning Courage, we argue that the responsibility to investigate historic misconduct and abuse falls upon all schools - even if you believe that your school does not have a problem with historic misconduct and abuse. The unfortunate reality is that, if your institution has been around for any substantial period of time, it is highly likely that there is some degree of painful history of misconduct and abuse within your community.
Incidents of existing student-on-student sexual misconduct and abuse can be incredibly difficult for any school community to handle. In many instances, there are strong emotions, conflicting accounts, confidentiality constraints, and important relationships where there is a great deal at stake. Physically and emotionally caring for the individuals involved during these moments is essential and often has to be done in concert with caring for the school and school community as well. In addition, there is an added challenge of maintaining privacy for those involved who are minors.
Training and educating your school’s community is critical to reducing instances of sexual misconduct and abuse and to create a culture of care and respect. We recommend that your school assign a specific individual or even a committee of faculty members to plan and oversee training throughout the school year. Your school should determine a set format and frequency for training and follow that closely. Ideally, your school should also establish annual goals for training and prevention before each school year begins.