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.
Training should include a mixture of presentation and interaction. The presentation may only happen once a year, but the interaction or discussion should be ongoing throughout the year to solidify the learning and create more comfort with discussion on a topic that some can find challenging to discuss. We suggest that content be updated annually to ensure that it contains the most recent and accurate information that will keep students informed and engaged in understanding how to maintain safe behaviors and protect the community. It is important that the training on topics that are delivered annually vary each time they are conducted so students and adults stay engaged. We recommend a three-four year cycle.
Insurance providers and training professionals, including Learning Courage, can help you identify topics to cover and ways to differentiate the training over time so the content remains fresh while reinforcing the standards that must be maintained.
Employee and student training must be mandatory. And those who participate on a committee or are directly involved with responding to resorts of sexual abuse should receive trauma-informed and survivor-centric training to ensure they minimize additional trauma.
As you plan your training, make sure to check both with your insurance company for their recommendations and your state for requirements on sexual harassment training. In addition, this section contains our recommendations for organizing and conducting employee, student, and parent training to prevent sexual misconduct and abuse in K-12 schools.
Minimizing incidents requires equipping everyone in the community with information and tools to help them recognize misconduct and abuse, contribute to a positive school climate, and maintain healthy and professional relationships. To do this effectively, provide regular training and discussion and employ different training modalities to ensure the content remains fresh and employees have multiple ways to understand critical content. Also, keep in mind that those directly involved in responding to reports of abuse must receive specialized training in the areas of trauma and survivor resilience.
The following topics should be included in employee training:
- Policies & procedures and handbooks: All employees should, at a minimum, read your school’s policies and procedures, the employee handbook, and the student handbook. Employees should be given the opportunity to discuss the content and ask questions during training. Every year, all employees should be required to affirm that they have reviewed and will adhere to the policies and procedures and the faculty handbook. See Learning Courage’s pages on “Policies and Procedures,” “Employee Handbook,” and “Student Handbook” for more information.
- Mandatory reporting and reporting protocols: Employees should receive information about the different incidents that require reporting. In some states, all individuals are mandatory reporters, which may provide an internal conflict if there is also one designated reporter at your school. Make sure everyone is clear about their role. If there is a designated reporter, employees need to be trained on how to report any instances of misconduct or abuse. See Learning Courage’s page on “Reporting Requirements” for more information.
- Signs and symptoms of abuse: Employees should be trained to identify and recognize the many signs and symptoms of sexual abuse. These can vary by individual and their age. As most employees are interacting with students every day, knowing these signs and symptoms can be crucial for knowing how to intervene when anyone suspects a student has been harmed or is currently in an unsafe situation. See Learning Courage’s page on “Signs and Symptoms of Abuse” for more information.
- Intervention: Your school should establish intervention protocols for when an employee identifies signs and symptoms of misconduct or abuse or believes that a student is in danger or has been harmed. These protocols for intervention should be reviewed during training.
- Professional boundaries and relationships: Your school should establish clear policies on the boundaries for interpersonal contact to protect students and employees as well as prevent adult sexual misconduct. There is a fine line between having a close, appropriate relationship with a student and overstepping boundaries, particularly in boarding schools where adults and students interact nearly 24/7. With the help of training sessions and clear policies, all employees should understand how to navigate adult-student relationships and communication and ensure that they remain appropriate.
- This topic is especially important as schools implement distance learning options and online communication between teachers and students increases. Especially considering different time zones when this communication may be taking place, blurring the boundaries of when and what may be appropriate to communicate. For more information on distance learning and preventing sexual misconduct and abuse, see Learning Courage’s page on “Covid Related Implications.”
- School climate and learning: Employees should learn about and understand the importance of creating and maintaining a positive school culture. Much of the work to create a positive school climate begins in places such as classrooms, dorms, athletic spaces, etc. So, teachers, coaches, club advisors, dorm parents, and other adults can play a critical role in promoting a culture of care, respect, and support. See Learning Courage’s page on “Climate Surveys” for more information. Training should also include annual updates regarding sociological and cultural shifts. This includes information about gender identity, sexual orientation, etc.
Students must be equipped with tools and information to keep themselves and their peers safe. The content and format of training will vary depending on the age of students, and it is important to make sure that all content is age-appropriate. Some of the following topics apply only to older students. Training for students should generally cover these topics:
- Policies & procedures and handbooks: All students must read your school’s policies and procedures and the student handbook so they know the expectations and consequences for not abiding by them. As important, your school should provide a forum and the expectation that students will discuss and ask questions about the content of your school’s policies, procedures, and handbook. A common platform for these discussions about handbooks and policies and procedures is in advisory groups because they are small and provide a good environment for discussion. Additionally, giving students an opportunity to discuss these policies, behaviors, and implications in small peer-led groups helps students develop a deeper knowledge and understanding of consent, healthy boundaries, and other aspects of sexual interactions that keep everyone safe. Every year, all students should be required to affirm that they have reviewed and will adhere to the policies and procedures and the student handbook. But this alone should not be considered adequate training. Specific details from the handbook should become talking points and training elements throughout the year to ensure students have a clear understanding of how to protect themselves and others from harm.
- Mandatory reporting and reporting protocols: Students should know what mandatory reporting is and which school employees, if not all, are mandatory reporters. Students should receive training on how they can report instances of sexual misconduct and abuse. This should also include an anonymous reporting option that protects the identity of the person reporting an incident. It should be easy for students to find information on how to report at your school on your website.
- Supportive services and student resources: Training should provide students with information about the resources that are available to them on and off-campus. Students should know who and where they can turn to if they experience misconduct or abuse. See Learning Courage’s page on “Supportive Services” for more information.
- Signs and symptoms of abuse: Students should be trained to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse. It is important that students are familiar with the signs and symptoms of abuse to understand unsafe or abusive situations and look out for themselves and their peers. See Learning Courage’s page on “Signs and Symptoms of Abuse” for more information.
- Consent: Understanding and discussing consent play a major role in prevention efforts. Training should provide students with useful, accurate, and detailed definitions and descriptions of consent, including scenario examples. The topic of consent should be taught in an age-appropriate way and covered throughout the school year, with opportunities for both adult and peer-led discussion to ensure there is an adequate understanding of this essential topic. This and other topics could be covered in residential life programming, wellness classes, grade level discussions, team and arts groups, and more.
- Definitions of sexual misconduct/abuse: Students should be provided with specific examples and definitions of sexual misconduct and abuse. Abuse may not always be recognizable, so providing clear and specific examples helps students understand which acts constitute sexual misconduct and abuse.
- Long-term consequences of abuse: When students understand the long-term effect on individuals from being abused, it’s easier to understand why intervening is critical. Students can then look beyond the short-term perspective (which may include intrigue, status, or simple exploration) and focus more on protecting themselves and their peers from harm.
- Bystander intervention training: Students should receive bystander intervention training to know how they can effectively and safely intervene if they witness an instance or potential instance of sexual misconduct or abuse. Role-playing intervention is an important part of the training to normalize these interactions and to give students very clear ways to act if they see intervention is required.
- Online behaviors and expectations: Students should understand your school’s expectations for appropriate online behavior. They should also be informed about the risks of engaging in online activity, such as cyberbullying and sexting. Training should provide students with both a firm understanding of how to safely engage with others online as well as the expectations they must adhere to and the consequences of failing to do so.
- Your school should also provide clear information to both employees and students about your policies for interpersonal contact between students and employees. Training should help students understand what are appropriate forms and extents of online communication with employees, which is especially crucial in distance learning settings.
- Topics related to online behaviors and expectations are especially important now, as schools implement distance learning options and online communication between teachers and students increases. For more information on distance learning and preventing sexual misconduct and abuse, see Learning Courage’s page on “Covid Related Implications.”
Board members may be involved in supporting school leadership when incidents of abuse and misconduct occur. It’s therefore essential that all Board members understand the logic behind using a survivor-informed approach to responding to reports of abuse. Particularly, recognizing that using a trauma-informed lens and survivor-informed approach is not just the best approach morally, it’s also the most financially-responsible way to handle incidents.
We also know that when Heads of School and Boards are aligned on this approach, incidents require less time, professional advice, and survivor remuneration. Learning Courage recommends that Heads of School and Board Chairs (and any related committees) should be properly trained.
Parent and Guardian Training
We recommend that your school offer optional training and informational sessions to parents and guardians. Parent/guardian training is useful for many reasons. It can help parents/guardians understand risks and the ways they can help keep their kids safe. Training also serves as an opportunity to educate parents/guardians about your school’s expectations for students and approach to student safety. It can be an opportunity to open dialogue between parents/guardians and children, particularly if the training is coordinated. Lastly, training sessions can serve to support parents/guardians as they navigate how to care for children in these complex times—this includes how to parent in this technologically advanced era, strategies and tips for communicating with children and teens, etc. These training sessions should include information about:
- Signs and symptoms of abuse: Parents/guardians should know and be able to recognize the signs and symptoms of abuse.
- Policies and procedures: Your school should be transparent with parents/guardians and actively inform them of the ways in which your school works to recognize, respond to, and reduce sexual misconduct and abuse.
- Online behaviors and expectations: Parents/guardians should understand expectations for and risks associated with kids’ online behavior. This includes information about the types of electronic communications that are commonly used as well as risks like cyberbullying and sexting. Training should also provide parents/guardians with an understanding of your school’s expectations of students with regard to online behavior and communication and the consequences of violating those expectations.
Finding the Right Trainers
It is crucial that those conducting training sessions are qualified and experienced. Learning Courage provides training and we encourage you to ask your member representative for help identifying trainers that meet your needs.