Preventing and Responding to Sexual Harassment

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Dear Students and Families, 

We are reaching out to share our thoughts about recent advocacy on the part of students to raise awareness about sexual harassment and assault. Our hope is to increase education and awareness about the reporting processes, and to be transparent about the limitations we may have given the scope of our oversight. We want to outline the steps that the District is taking to continue to prioritize responding to this issue.

First, we want to reiterate that each and every student concern is taken seriously. Sexual harassment has no place in our schools. SFUSD is committed to taking all appropriate steps to make sure we educate, prevent, and address any incidents of sexual harassment that occur in our schools. We also want students to know they have a safe place to share incidents that occur outside our schools and we work with city and community partners to provide support. 

Over the past few months some students have shared demands and we want them to know that we are listening. We applaud our students' activism and we are proud to see them protesting and speaking up for what they see is right. We have always supported SFUSD’s students' right to protest and it is no different when it comes to this issue. 

At the end of this letter, we are including information and specific commitments regarding how to report an incident of sexual harassment, how incidents of sexual harassment are investigated, SFUSD curriculum about boundaries and consent, legal limitations for SFUSD, and SFUSD commitments. The Student and Family Handbook, which is updated annually and translated into 6 languages, is a way to understand the rights that you have in the District. It is also a place where the District outlines our expectations for students and families. You can access the handbook online at: www.sfusd.edu/student-and-family-handbook or you can request a paper copy from that same link.

We appreciate students for their leadership in demanding that our schools and communities be safe from sexual harassment and we agree wholeheartedly. We remain dedicated to partnering with students, families and staff to ensure our schools are safe communities for everyone. 

Sincerely,

Dr. Vincent Matthews, Superintendent of Schools 
Keasara Williams, Executive Director, SFUSD Office of Equity

 

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HOW TO REPORT AN INCIDENT OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT

If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual harassment, we encourage you report the harassment to a trusted SFUSD adult. As required by law, the District has designated Title IX Coordinators. Below is their contact information:

Office of Equity, 415-355-7334, equity@sfusd.edu
Webpage: Sexual Harassment and Gender Discrimination (Title IX) 
Keasara Williams, Executive Director, williamsk3@sfusd.edu
Ann Marie Cortez, Title IX Coordinator, corteza1@sfusd.edu

In addition, SFUSD designates specific Title IX Site Officers at every District school. Site Officers are specifically responsible for helping students navigate the District policies around sexual harassment that occurs within their school community. For information on who your school’s Title IX Site Officer is, please see this link.

Students can report a concern to their principal, their Title IX Site Officer, or to the District’s Title IX Coordinator at equity@sfusd.edu

If incidents rise to the level of “Title IX Sexual Harassment” (as described below), students/families should submit a written Formal Title IX Complaint Form so the District can investigate.

HOW INCIDENTS OF SEXUAL HARASSMENT ARE INVESTIGATED

“Title IX Sexual Harassment”

In May 2020, the U.S. Department of Education issued updated Regulations governing Title IX. SFUSD updated our policies to ensure that we are following these new procedures in August 2020. The District is obligated to adopt the below definitions as it does not have discretion to define “Title IX Sexual Harassment” more narrowly or more broadly than the updated Title IX Regulations. For more information regarding these regulations, please see Department of Education's Office for Civil Rights Title IX and Sex Discrimination and Sex Discrimination: Overview of the Law webpages.

The District’s current policy on sexual harassment adopts the Title IX regulation’s new definition of sexual harassment and provides a formal grievance procedure for the investigation into allegations against students and staff members. Sexual Harassment is now defined as any of the following conduct that occurs at school or at school-related activity that includes:

  • Unwelcome sexual conduct determined by a reasonable person to be so severe, pervasive, and objectively offensive that it effectively denies a person equal access to the District’s education program or activity; 
    • Severe may include, among other things, conduct that involves physical touching, breach of privacy, threats of violence, and explicit language.
    • Pervasive may include repeated conduct and/or conduct that is openly practiced, widespread, or known to others.
    • Objectively offensive conduct is conduct that a reasonable person in a similar situation would find offensive, meaning it causes someone to feel deeply hurt, upset, or angry.
  • A District employee conditioning the provision of an aid, benefit, or service of the District on a student or individual’s participation in unwelcome sexual conduct; or
  • Sexual assault, dating violence, domestic violence, or stalking, as defined in AR 5145.7. 

Conduct that meets this definition of sexual harassment will be investigated under the District’s new Formal Grievance Procedure, if a student (the victim of the alleged conduct) or their parent/guardian chooses to submit a written Formal Title IX Complaint Form to the District’s Office of Equity. Students and Families can also submit it to their school (which will then be forwarded to the Office of Equity).

The District has created many resources describing the formal Title IX Complaint process. 

“Education Code Sexual Harassment”

Incidents that do not rise to the level of “Title IX Sexual Harassment” are investigated through the District’s Bullying & Harassment Policies. Examples of sexual harassment investigated under these policies are:

  • A single incident of physical sexual harassment that occurs just once. 
  • Sexual jokes, pictures, graffiti, or objects. 
  • Graphic verbal comments, comments about someone’s body, catcalling, etc. 

In addition, the Title IX Regulations specify that incidents that occurred prior to August 14, 2020, must be investigated under the District’s former sexual harassment policy. Therefore, any newly reported incidents related to conduct prior to August 14, 2020 will also be investigated under the Bullying & Harassment policy. 

The District has also created many resources to help describe the Bullying & Harassment investigation process. 


SFUSD CURRICULUM ABOUT BOUNDARIES AND CONSENT 

The California Healthy Youth Act (AB 329), which went into effect in January 2016, requires that schools provide comprehensive sexuality education for students in grades 7-12 at least once in middle schools and at least once in high school. Further, SFUSD Board Policy, 6142.1 Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Prevention Instruction, requires comprehensive sexual health education and HIV prevention education shall be offered to all students in grades 7-12, including at least once in junior high or middle school and at least once in high school.  In SFUSD, Health Education (including comprehensive sexuality education with a strong emphasis on consent), is a graduation requirement for high school students.

For elementary school students, we also start these discussions earlier by talking about safe touch, healthy relationships, and boundaries/consent in an age-appropriate way. We understand these conversations need to start sooner and are working at the District level to be more intentional with providing this information to our younger students and more consistent with the delivery of these lessons.

You can go to the SFUSD website to view our health education curriculum: https://www.sfusd.edu/health-education

LEGAL LIMITATIONS FOR SFUSD

Not all, but many of the reports we are receiving this semester concern incidents that occurred off campus (both in person and online) and are unrelated to school. We understand that students are frustrated by this, but our hands are often tied by both State and Federal laws regarding jurisdiction that limit our ability to issue school based discipline. Every student enrolled at SFUSD has a compulsory right to education, which means that all students ages 6 to 18 are required to attend school and entitled to education at one of our public schools in San Francisco. As the current law stands, when misconduct is unrelated to school activities (such as over the summer, weekend, or other non-school sponsored events), the District does not have the legal authority to suspend or expel students. 

We do, however, still want to hear if students are feeling uncomfortable so we may offer school based support as legally allowable and appropriate and/or refer students to the appropriate authorities. Even when we do not have jurisdiction to issue formal discipline, we will still take action to intervene, communicate with parents, and share expectations of student behavior.  

Recent regulatory changes to Title IX have limited SFUSD’s jurisdiction. This means that the District does not have jurisdiction to investigate and/or discipline for allegations related to incidents of sexual harassment and assault that occur outside of school. 

Jurisdictional limits also apply to online comments (sexual harassment or otherwise) and other behaviors that occur online, on a platform not related to SFUSD and not during the school day. We have received many reports of students who are engaging in public posting of personal information and also contacting and/or bullying students through social media platforms. While California Education Code states that electronic conduct that “originated on or off the school site” can be a form of cyberbullying (Ed. Code 48900(r)(2)(A)),  the Education Code further states that a student “shall not be suspended or expelled” … “unless the act is related to a school activity or school attendance occurring within a school.”

We encourage families to continue to talk to their students about safe and responsible online activity. Students posting public information, including the names of minors, on social media also run the risk of opening themselves and their parents/guardians up to civil liability. We ask parents and guardians to become familiar with their students’ online behavior and remain diligent about the platforms and public and private information their students are sharing. 

SFUSD COMMITMENTS 

While there are legal limitations on what we can do in these cases, we want students to know we hear their advocacy and their shared frustrations. We have met as a District to map out our next steps to further support and engage students in the requested changes. In order to respond to the increased demands of these issues: 

  1. The Office of Equity will be adding an additional investigator to help investigate Formal Title IX Complaints at the District level. This will also assist the Office in Equity in directly supporting students, as well as the Office’s abilty to provide real time advice and counseling to school sites who are investigating Education Code Sexual Harassment under the District’s Bullying & Harassment Policy.
  2. The Office of Equity will be convening a Sexual Harassment K-12 Student Advisory Group, starting in Spring 2022, to continue to hear from and address issues raised by our students. This advisory group will work with the Office of Equity on the following issues:
    1. Creating more student-friendly resources, including social media, electronic video, etc.
    2. Crafting more student-friendly language for the website and Student-Family Handbook
    3. Discussing and providing input on trauma-informed training materials for future staff and student trainings regarding student rights.
    4. Creating a comprehensive list of supportive measures for students who report incidents. We also hope to identify any gaps in mental health and/or wellness support so we can advocate for any additional resources that may be necessary at our schools. 
    5. Creating a student age-appropriate experience survey that can be shared in the future by SFUSD.  
    6. Learning about legislative advocacy in order to support students in having a voice in future Federal Title IX law-making efforts. 
    7. Reviewing the current SFUSD curriculum and working with District Leadership to create consistent practices of providing the information to all SFUSD students. 
  3. SFUSD will continue to provide professional development to all relevant staff on sexual harassment prevention, investigation, and appropriate responses.