GLAA urges School Board to institute anti-harassment policy
Rev. Robert Childs
D.C. Board of Education
825 North Capitol Street, N.E., 9th floor
Washington, D.C. 20002-4232
Dear Rev. Childs:
In the summer of 1999, the Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance (GLAA) of Washington, DC approached Superintendent Ackerman about the lack of a student-on-student harassment policy in D.C. Public Schools, particularly one that specifically included sexual orientation. Ms. Ackerman did not respond to our letter. Councilmember Jim Graham sent a letter to her as a follow-up to our letter, at which time Ms. Veleter Mazyck, the DCPS General Counsel promised the Emergency Transitional Board of Trustees that they would get community input for such a policy. No organizations were consulted, yet Ms. Ackerman decided in January 2000 to forgo a policy change based on the recommendation of "outside counsel."
In light of the fact that the U.S. Supreme Court had ruled that school districts were financially liable if student-on-student harassment was known of and not stopped (a fact that DCPS seemed to be unaware of), and the fact that Washington, DC is one of the most culturally diverse cities in the country, such a decision seemed very bizarre. As a result of this determination by DCPS and GLAA's vocal opposition to it, several members of the Board of Trustees were able to arrange a meeting between Ms. Ackerman's staff and GLAA to discuss this issue. We met in late February and turned over a 100+ page document to DCPS putting forth a proposed policy and showing examples of other policies from around the country, including legal citations from where failure to protect students had resulted in up to one million dollar judgments against the school district. We talked to the staff about a two-pronged approach: Having Ms. Ackerman issue a preliminary directive to be followed up by inclusion of specific protections in the student discipline code.
In early March, Ms. Ackerman's staff informed us that they were going to go with only having Ms. Ackerman issue a directive stating that harassment because of one's sexual orientation is covered under the existing sexual harassment policy. We find this solution to be woefully lacking for several reasons. First of all, it does not address other forms of harassment such as those relating to ethnicity, religion, etc. Additionally, it would not take a high-powered lawyer to argue the sexual orientation harassment is different from sexual harassment. Past examples of directives and practices by the Superintendent and her office do not give us much faith in this approach. Notably, DCPS publications still only list the federally protected classes of non-discrimination despite Directive #314.4 dated October 24, 1997 which stated in part that all of the thirteen legally protected classes in the DC Human Rights Law must be used.
The DCPS General Counsel and a representative of the Corporation Counsel's office have indicated that if the issue is not in the student discipline code, then taking punitive action against a student for violations would not be allowed.
Furthermore, the lack of effective enforcement of current policies and procedures by DCPS makes us leery of this approach. An example of this would be the sexual assault of a student at Kramer Middle School in Ward 6. A male student, who claims that he was being harassed all school year, was sexually assaulted in a school bathroom in January 2000. As of earlier this week, DCPS was still reporting no suspensions or exclusions of students for sexual assault this year (in fact, they told us no sexual assaults had occurred all year) despite the fact that the above case resulted in an arrest of a Kramer student by the Metropolitan Police Department. In fact, the General Counsel, the Deputy Superintendent, and members of the Board of Trustees were surprised when we presented them with a copy of the police report as proof at their March 8th meeting.
We have attempted to work through the DCPS officials to obtain an administrative solution to this problem to no avail. We have forwarded information about our proposals and our findings to you and Ms. Kinlow in your positions on the Board of Trustees. We will also be following up with Mr. Tom Kelly per your recommendation.
We are officially asking that the Board of Education review this issue and through your powers institute an all-inclusive, anti-harassment policy to protect all of the students in D.C. Public Schools. Our organization is willing to assist the Board of Education in any way possible on this issue.
I look forward to hearing from you to discuss this issue further.
Vice President for Administration
Gay and Lesbian Activists Alliance of Washington, DC
cc: Board of Education
Emergency Transitional Education Board of Trustees
Mayor Anthony Williams
D.C. City Council Committee on Education, Libraries, and Recreation
Arlene Ackerman, Superintendent, DCPS
Charles F. Holman III, Acting Director, Office of Human Rights
Robert Rigsby, Corporation Counsel
The Washington Post
The Washington Blade
The City Paper