The Alpine School District Board approved a new sexual harassment policy this week. This marked the first change in the policy since 2009 for the state’s largest school district.
Kimberly Bird, one of the public information officers for the district, characterized the new policy as a complete rewrite.
She also spoke about how robust the policy is, and how significant changes to the Title 9 act of 1972 prompted the rewrite. The policy not only will help employees be better reporters of sexual harassment, but also give due process to both complainants and respondents.
The main goal of the new policy, which was approved Tuesday, is to ensure that the district is providing a safe learning and work environment for both students and employees, according to Bird.
“This is going to help all of us to work better and to recognize our responsibility to report information,” Bird said. “It is also very clear in the description of what is deemed sexual misconduct and sexual harassment. The law is written in such a way that we would help take people through a complete investigation, make sure we have supportive measures in place if needed, offer appeal and offer grievance. It’s just a more robust policy than we have ever had.”
Through updating the policy, the district clearly defined and showed the process in which it will handle a claim of sexual harassment. Starting with how to submit a claim, it then identifies employees’ responsibility to report, the process for an investigation, possible discipline and remedies and supportive measures available for all parties.
While the sheer size of the Alpine School District could factor in to the importance of having a more clearly comprehensive sexual harassment policy, Bird said she would want this policy in place regardless of district size.
“What this policy offers is it’s fully comprehensive,” Bird said. “When you look at, ‘Who do I report something to? What’s an initial response by the district? What do decision makers do? How do I appeal? (And) What are my rights?’ It wouldn’t matter if I worked in a district of 10,000 or a district of 81,000 like Alpine is, I would want to have the same rights afforded to me given the due process I would need, or want, whether I was a respondent or a complainant.”
The policy prior to the district’s updated one was broken down by work classification, whether it be certified employees, students, classified employees or managerial employees. With the updated policy, the district was looking to establish individual rights and responsibilities so that people within the schools know what is expected of them.
As far as next steps for Alpine, the district will have its hands full with the training that will need to be done going forward, which Bird estimated could take between a year to 16 months. That involves not only the time for initial training, but also areas of specific instruction for investigation teams, decision makers, principals, teachers and students.
“We’ve got district level to be trained, we’ve got administrators to be trained, teachers, faculty, staff and then students,” Bird said. “We’ll utilize a lot of the summer time to do more broad training for the larger groups. We will then make sure to help our school principals to get this policy into handbooks on their websites, all of those different ways we can make sure we publish not only our policy but the processes and rules and regulations that govern it.”