The Hillsborough County School District has a solid plan to make sure its students know how to identify and report sexual misconduct at school. This is a reasonable response to disappointing results from a recent survey that showed students had little confidence in their classmates' ability to report sexually inappropriate behavior. The district should move quickly with its initiative to train students, teachers and administrators and give this sensitive topic the attention it deserves. If it moves forward, these lessons can help create an environment where sexual misconduct at school is not tolerated and students feel empowered to speak up when violations occur.
The district came under scrutiny in June after the release of results from its annual climate survey. The survey revealed that only about 4 in 10 middle and high school students said they and their classmates knew how to report sexually inappropriate behavior. Hillsborough signed a resolution with the U.S. Education Department's civil rights office in 2011 that required the district to make sure its students knew how to recognize and report sexual misconduct. The voluntary agreement and government review of the district came after a 2007 incident at Middleton High School where a student was suspended after reporting that a teacher had sex with another student. The incident was later verified. Under Title IX, which bans discrimination and harassment in schools, the government closely monitors schools that receive federal money.
Just 41.7 percent of Hillsborough students said their classmates knew the proper course of action to take when sexual harassment occurs. District officials plan to hold focus groups at some schools to determine if students understood the question. Officials also hope information gathered during the focus groups will help shape sexual misconduct training for all students.
By October, district officials plan to debut a campaign that features age-appropriate videos about recognizing and reporting sexually inappropriate behavior for elementary, middle and high school students. The district also will provide training for administrators and teachers around the beginning of the school year.
It is the district's responsibility to ensure that students, faculty and staff have schools with healthy environments where inappropriate behavior is not tolerated. The district's plan would take strong steps in that direction by educating students and teachers about unacceptable behavior and how to report it.
Parents should reinforce the lessons at home, providing support and another safe place for students to share their concerns about sexual misconduct. These difficult but necessary conversations need not wait until school resumes. Parents should start right now.