The Evansville School District might not have done enough to prevent sexual harassment and misconduct in the past, Superintendent Jerry Roth admits.
But he says new policies are being developed to change that this year.
“We have an obligation to do our best,” Roth said. “With recent events and the issue of sexual harassment being raised in our district, we’ve come to understand that though we thought we were doing our best, that we have room for improvement.”
Concerns about misconduct at the high school were raised this summer, sparked by a Facebook post about a student allegedly behaving inappropriately. The topic caused heated discussion on social media, and two community forums were held to talk about it.
At a Sept. 19 forum, Roth and other officials explained current procedures and suggested improvements, which are now being finalized.
The district will schedule legal training for staff on gender discrimination and how to identify sexual harassment and misconduct, and all middle and high school students will attend assemblies on the topic, Roth said.
The assemblies will define what sexual harassment is and teach students how to report sexual assault or harassment.
“We want to help our staff understand how they identify it, when and how they report it, how to support our students who are reporting it and may be victims of this, and also how to support our co-workers,” he said.
Changes to the student handbook and district policies could be coming, too. District officials are examining co-curricular handbooks, student handbooks, all bullying and harassment policies, and harassment reporting forms.
The school district has a zero tolerance policy regarding sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, Roth said, but district officials want to do more than that.
“I think there’s a realization that maybe we weren’t doing as much as we can be doing,” he said. “Not because we didn’t want to; it may be just because we didn’t know. As part of this, we feel an obligation to learn more and to understand more.”
The district also wants to focus on cyberbullying and texting issues. Roth said it’s important that people remember there are two sides to every report. While the district takes reports seriously, he wants to ensure that those who are accused are treated fairly.
“There’s a due process for any kind of complaint. We want to give due process to students accused of this, too,” he said.
The assemblies and staff training will occur throughout the year and will become an annual ritual, Roth said.
“We have work to do,” he said. “We know it. … We take that responsibility very seriously because the bottom line is our staff and our students deserve to feel safe in our school, and we need to do everything possible to ensure that.
“We will be better.”