Friday, December 16, 2011

Education, Legislation & Insanity

[Johnathan Clayborn]
I was planning on writing about this particular topic last week however I put it off a few times as I wanted to gather some more information before writing it out. I think I’m ready now, or at least I’ve delayed long enough.
There are some issues that occur that make we wonder if all logic and reason has completely dissipated from world leaving a sad, empty shell of humanity bereft of common sense and intellectually bankrupt. It’s a bleak outlook, I know. One of those issues is sexual harassment in the schools. Now, before you get all belligerent and self-righteous let me be clear; I’m not advocating that honest-to-goodness sexual harassment cases be ignored simply because they’re in a school setting. However, what I am suggesting is that some of social, political and legislative views on what constitutes and defines sexual harassment may need some serious revision.
Presently, I work as an Information Systems Analyst in a Human Resources department while I finish my college education. In my role here and at several previous jobs I’ve had to sit through countless hours of sexual harassment trainings and seminars. From what I know about the subject and I what I see reported on the news, there is a sad absence of reason and a proliferation of preposterous litigation surrounding this issue in our public schools.
To understand my frustration, allow me to bring to your attention a few noteworthy news articles from recent years.
As anyone who’s been around little kids for any length of time will tell you, little kids like to hug. They’re little huggers. That’s what they do. Not all kids, mind you, but enough. My own son is certainly no exception to this. Being a parent and being around small children regularly I can’t possibly imagine any child doing this with deliberate intent to harm someone physically or emotionally, and yet, there are those who would have you believe exactly that.

The first story that I remember really bringing this topic into the forefront of my consciousness was in December of 2006, December 8th to be exact. The story happened in Hagerstown, Maryland. A 5 year old Kindergartener was suspended from school. He was suspended on the grounds that committed sexual harassment against a fellow classmate at Lincolnshire Elementary. The nature of his crime, in case you were wondering, was that he pinched a female classmate on the buttocks. School officials said “fits the state Department of Education's definition of sexual harassment as "unwelcome sexual advances, request for sexual favors and/or other inappropriate verbal, written or physical conduct of a sexual nature directed toward others."” The boy’s father was outraged at the school saying that his son was unaware of the seriousness of this allegation and only knew it as playing around.

Surely this was an isolated incident, right? A momentary lapse of judgment on the part of the administration?  No, sadly, it wasn’t. Las Vegas, Texas. Four days later… December 12, 2006. A 4 year old boy attending La Vega Primary School was sentenced into in-house suspension. This student is a pre-kindergarten student. What did he do to earn himself in-house suspension?  According to the school, he committed sexual harassment. Allegedly he inappropriately rubbed his face into the bosom of a teacher’s aide.

Two years later another incident; 2008, Greer, Greenville County, South Carolina. A six year old child was sent home with allegations of sexual harassment because he told his teacher that one of his follow students liked looking at her behind. Mind you, the student who’s being accused of this wasn’t looking, he was ratting out the looker. Maybe the boy’s classmate had good taste, maybe the teacher sat on some tape, or had a hole in her pants, or maybe the informant was mistaken about what he thought was happening. Whatever the story was, the boy was suspended for sexual harassment because he insinuated that a classmate would look at their teacher like that.

But the insanity doesn’t stop there. Four days later it happened again. Apr 8, 2008. The Washington Post ran another story about sexual harassment. The alleged abuser in this case was another 6 year old boy. This boy (whose alleged crime actually transpired in the preceding November) was that he smacked a fellow classmate’s bottom. The girl told the teacher who took him to the principal and they wrote him up with “Sexual Touching Against A Student, Offensive” and put it in his permanent file. And then, as if to drive the message home, they called the police.
Fast forward to Feb 12, 2010. In 2006 a 6 year old boy from Brockton, MA was suspended for Sexual harassment against another student. The family sued. The case was finally settled in court four years later. The ruling? After paying out more than $50,000 in legal fees the court ordered the city to pay out $160,000 in damages to the boy and $20,000 in damages to the parents. They also had to pay the boy’s attorney $60,000 for his legal fees.
While this kind of rampant accusatory behavior is amplified in schools, it is not entirely an element found solely within public schools. Just a few short weeks ago, Nov 25, a news story broke about a family that was suing a 6-year old boy for first degree sexual assault. The basis of their allegations centers around the fact that this boy was “playing doctor” with their 5-year old girl. Curiously, the girls brother, who was also playing doctor with them is not being cited or charged with anything  even though he is the same age and committed the same acts. Developmental Psychologists are in an uproar over this case in particular as they cite that playing doctor is a normal part of the exploratory developmental stage of the human psyche.  They say that it often makes parents feel uncomfortable to know that their children are comparing privates with one another, but it’s how children learn what is different and the same between other people. They further go on to say that “so long as all of the parties are participating willingly, there isn’t any harm in this”.
Even more outrageous, On December 5th there were two separate and distinct cases of “sexual harassment” charged against children. First, on December 5th, a first grader was charged with sexual harassment after he kicked a bully in the groin (again, another topic for a separate post).  Here’s a summary of what happened. The 7-year old boarded the bus. The bully approached and demanded his gloves. The first grader refused. The bully began to choke him, so in response, the first grader kicked the bully in groin. The first grader was sentenced to suspension on grounds of sexual harassment. The bully was not cited or charged with anything.
Elsewhere in the country that very same day another first grader was suspended for sexual harassment for calling his teacher “cute”.  The school’s administration claimed the language violated the sexual harassment policy of the district. After an intense deluge of national media coverage the school district quickly performed an investigation and found that “no sexual harassment had occurred” and the following day the principal resigned over the incident.
I could have produced many more examples, but I felt that these were sufficient in number and nature to demonstrate my point. If you don’t believe me try Googling “sexual harassment” and “kindergartner” together. The craze isn’t just with very young elementary student’s either. There are many cases of sexual harassment or sexual abuse charges that may or may not be justified against older children (ages 6-17) as well. Some are outlined here.
And sexual harassment claims also exist in the college campuses as well. But we would expect that given the types of activities that sometimes happen at college. But even at the college level some of these claims are unreasonable, such as a claim filed against Western Nevada College because she had to write an expose on her masturbation routine and draw an illustrated interpretation of her orgasm. Why is this a little unreasonable? Because the class was “Human Sexuality”, and it was an elective course that she willingly signed up for. And it’s not as though this is some young, naive college student either, this particular student is 60 years old.
So where did the system go wrong? As far as I’ve been able to discover, it seems as though the sexual harassment craze went haywire in the early 1990’s.  By the late 1990’s this sexual harassment push was in a frenzied stage. In fact, it was so popular and out of control that the Comedy Central adult cartoon series, South Park, poked fun at the issue (and the results of the issue) with their portrayal of the character, Petey the Sexual Harassment Panda in 1999.
A whole series of new policies and directives were passed and aimed at schools turning them into a zero-tolerance zone for many things (more on that later too), sexual harassment among them. The entire system has been spiraling out of control since then.
Ted Feinberg, assistant director of the National Association of School Psychologists in Bethesda, said he had never come across a case of sexual harassment in elementary school in his three decades in the schools. To label somebody a sexual harasser at 6 “doesn't make sense to me”, he said. “Kids can be exploratory in behavior. They can mimic what they see on TV.'"
Proponents of the new policies will cite any number of studies like this one or this one or this one or this one or this one.   One study says 1/3 of middle and high school students feel that they’ve been sexually harassed. Others say that “48% of female high school students feel that they’ve been sexually harassed”. These are obvious concerns and these statistics are what is driving the blind push to enact a proliferation of new policies to stem the flow of insanity. However, I can’t help but wonder if they’re looking at this the right way.
As a result of these new policies, the Virginia Department of Education reported that 255 elementary students were suspended in 2007 for offensive sexual touching, or 'improper physical contact against a student.' In Maryland, 166 elementary school children were suspended during 2007 for sexual harassment, including three preschoolers, 16 kindergartners and 22 first-graders, according to the State Department of Education.  33.6% of all of their suspensions and allegations were aimed at children 7 years old or younger.

At least there are few champions of reason and logic. David Davis was the executive director of an Advocacy Center in Waco in 2006. He thinks that it’s absurd to charge children this small with sexual harassment allegations. He says assuming the boy has not had sexual encounters, or been inappropriately exposed to pornography, most four-year-olds are sexually innocent.

Another book, Promoting Social Justice for Young Children also heralds logic and reason as key elements when dealing with children and charging them with crimes of a sexual nature.
So what’s changed? Well, for one thing, with the intensity of sexual harassment awareness that’s been occurring in the last four decades our culture is more aware of sexual harassment as an issue than we have at any other point in our history. So, it’s not unreasonable to assume that higher number of cases of sexual harassment are being reported simply as a result of this awareness. Does that mean that we should allow it? Of course not. However, some reason has to be administered in the application and distribution of these policies.
Why is this such an issue? Well, for one thing, depending on the county or the state that this is happening in, many of these charges are a felony. In some states they are a Class B felony, in other states they are a Class 2 felony. In some of these cases state laws will require that, if convicted, these children will be registered on a sex offender watch list once they turn 18. This is completely ridiculous, in my opinion.
There’s an official guide to “sexual harassment” published for use by schools. This guide was written by the US Department of education ( ). It’s rather long so I’ll spare all of the details, but I will quote page V of the preface. Under the “definition of sexual harassment” the guidebook states; “one commenter urged OCR to provide distinct definitions from criteria used to maintain private actions for monetary damages. We disagree.” They refuse to spell out and delineate exactly what constitutes harassment leaving it open to the interpretation of the individual schools. They cite a prior guidance in 1997 and a court case (Davis) that if “conduct of a sexual nature is sufficiently severe, persistent, or pervasive to limit a student’s ability to participate or benefit from the education program, or to or to create a hostile or abusive educational environment” it constitutes “sexual harassment”.
The problem with these laws is that even the EEOC and other federal government branches are vague about what constitutes sexual harassment and what doesn’t. However, most of us assume that “harassment” as a broad definition defines an action which has been repeated more than once. For example, going back to the first grader who called his teacher “cute”, that same behavior in the workplace would hardly constitute sexual harassment. If I walked down the hallway and said to one of my co-workers “you look very cute today”, that wouldn’t really constitute anything. However, if that statement made her uncomfortable and she said as much and I persisted in that behavior, then it clearly moves into the grounds of harassment.
The other serious issue that’s raising red flags for me is the complete and total breakdown of our judicial system. There is also a proliferation of court cases involving teachers or other faculty who have had sexual relations with their students. In some of these cases absolutely nothing happens to these teachers. For example, in 2002, 43-year old teacher Pamela Diehl-Moore was tried in a New Jersey court for sleeping with a 13-year old boy, a student who had just completed her 7th grade class. New Jersey Superior Court Judge Bruce A. Gaeta was assigned to the case. When delivering the sentence he said "I really don't see the harm that was done here, and certainly society doesn't need to be worried. I do not believe she is a sexual predator. It's just something between two people that clicked beyond the teacher-student relationship. Maybe it was a way for him, once this happened, to satisfy his sexual needs, people mature at different rates."  The initial sentence was five years of probation with no jail time. Two months later after an appeals court heard the case her sentence was changed to 3 years in prison.
On the one hand, we have judges who are being extremely lenient with teachers who sleep with their students, but then on the other hand we have lawyers and school administrators who are charging students with sexual harassment? When did we cross into the Twilight Zone, exactly?
Many of the litigators claim that their charges against 1st and 2nd graders are completely justified as the law does not impose an age restriction or definition. In my mind this is a grave travesty; to charge a child with a crime like sexual harassment when they don’t even understand the concept of sex and are physically incapable of even having sex is completely absurd. But it doesn’t end there. To me, charging kindergartners and preschoolers with these crimes is the worst travesty that a school can do to their students. In many cases it is the first time that these kids have been to school. It’s the first time that they’ve been exposed to so many other kids their age; it’s their first exposure to a school environment, etc. We teach them how to add and subtract and say their shapes and colors, but we can’t teach them how to be a student? At what point is a child supposed to learn that these behaviors are wrong? Sure, some people will say that it’s the parent’s job to teach their children, and I’m not arguing that point. But, the parents aren’t always going to have their children in the same situational context as the teachers will. Ultimately, the teachers should be teaching the students what to do and how to act in school. To punish the students for things that they don’t even understand is a grave injustice.
I ask you, dear readers, to ponder this the next time that you hear about plans discussing “education reform”. Many, many people are clamoring for education reform, and rightly so. However, almost all of the new proposals focus solely on academic reform. None of the address issues like this, or the violence in the schools that I addressed earlier in the month. I vociferously believe that in order for any kind of educational reformation to be truly effective it has to be a holistic plan that addresses all of the failings of the system. To use an analogy, it doesn’t make sense to me to replace one tire when the other three are still flat.

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These blogs represent my thoughts, ideas and opinions. They may be different from yours. You may not agree with them. While I do enjoy a good, polite debate on a topic (where points are countered with other points based on logic, reason and fact), I do not enjoy an argument (where you tell me that I am wrong simply because you disagree and cannot offer any reasons to support your position). I am very respectful of others, and I expect everyone on here to be respectful in return, not only to me, but to each other as well. Disrespectful posts will be deleted automatically. Feel free to share your ideas, but keep it civil, please.