The Safe and Supportive Schools Act will provide $320 million to school districts to hire and retain school resource officers to help keep their schools safe and teaching to the forefront. The Act will also provide school districts with annual reporting on school safety, including the number of armed security officers in schools and a summary of school safety measures taken to prevent incidents, such as metal detectors, school resource officers, and school counselors.
“The most important thing is for kids to be listened to,” says Education Secretary Arne Duncan, “and have their experiences reflected in the policies that are being made.” The Secretary is right: listening to kids is crucial to change in schools. Some might argue that it’s not the most important thing, but it’s a crucial step. And it’s not just listening that is important, but also hearing. For example, if you’re a student who has had a bad experience with a teacher, but the principal decides to side with the teacher, it won’t lead to better results. Nor will it if the student refuses to listen to his or her parents, the
As a student, you must have felt the pressure to perform and do well. Today, that pressure has increased ten-fold because, with more and more schools implementing a rigorous curriculum, you don’t just have to be smart, you need to be perfect. But, in addition to the pressure from parents and teachers, you’re also under pressure from peers to do well. This is because more students are now entering college and getting high grades, meaning your grades are no longer as impressive as they used to be.
I am a high school student from Montgomery County, Maryland and a passionate advocate for social justice and progressive change. Over the past year, I have been working with colleagues in my school district, Montgomery County Public Schools (MCPS), to reform the rules on sexual misconduct. Last summer, more than 350 MCPS students took to social media to speak out against the failure of school administration and staff to provide them with sexual behavior programs and training and to improperly handle their reports of sexual harassment, sexual assault and abuse.
For years I was angry about the way my district handled my own business and tried to work with the school board to reform the system, but I didn’t see much progress. It’s hard for a district to ignore an issue when more than 350 students are speaking out against something, but it seems MCPS has done just that. Although they said they had reviewed several social media posts, they did not promise any policy or cultural changes. In the July 1, 2020 email from Superintendent Jack Smith to all MCPS students and families, Smith writes that MCPS has taken significant steps over the past five years to strengthen abuse prevention efforts, improve accountability protocols, and increase cultural competency.
Despite concerns from a large group of students about the current culture and education around sexual misconduct, MCPS, which has approximately 160,564 students, has made no promises to change the rules around reporting sexual misconduct or to improve teaching and curriculum. When we returned to virtual school in the fall, the district introduced optional training on the culture of respect, an online module to prevent all forms of bullying, harassment and intimidation. Many students felt that this program fell far short of the kind of reform our district needed.
As an ardent advocate for change, I knew I had to try again to bring about reform. Two of my colleagues and I decided to start an initiative to reform several areas in our district. These areas include:
- Sexual misconduct legislation and reporting system.
- Training of students and teachers.
- Introduction of electronic resources for students who have survived sexual misconduct.
We worked with the county’s regional student council to send an application form to all colleges and universities so that our initiative would represent students from across the county. After much interest in the initiative, my colleagues and I formed four district-wide student working groups of about 40 students. I chaired a task force on sexual misconduct reporting reform. The current rule was written in the late 1990s and has not been updated since 2017. We wanted to change various aspects of the offer, but above all we wanted to make it as student-friendly as possible.
Although the original provision states that students may report an incident of sexual misconduct to any employee of the school, it does not take into account the difficulty the victim may have in telling an employee of the school what happened to her. The most significant change for us was the introduction of anonymous reporting of sexual misconduct. This allows students to feel more comfortable without being criticized by school staff or judged by their peers. We have also updated all definitions contained in the ordinance and added some new words, such as. B. has added permission and made the language gender neutral to ensure it is consistent with 21st century practices. It’s the same as at the beginning of the twentieth century.
We have also added a new section to ensure that students do not have to go to class with their abusers if they have reported them. In addition to these changes, we have established a policy stating that students who violate this policy may be suspended from extracurricular activities or excluded from leadership roles in the school community. Fortunately, our initiative is taking place in a district that welcomes criticism and student participation. So we were able to work with members of the Board of Education and other adult activists to get district officials, like the Title IX coordinator, to implement the reform we’ve been working on for months.
While we have not yet implemented these new rules, as that takes time, we have caught the attention of the state and will soon be working on a statewide bill that includes many of the reforms we have implemented in our district.
Reflection and forward motion
Most people associate sexual assault and harassment with problems in the workplace or see sexual misconduct as a student problem, but according to the Rape, Assault and Incest National Network (RAINN), people between the ages of 12 and 34 are at the highest risk for sexual assault and rape, indicating that the problem is common among high school and college students. That said, we’ve seen a huge cultural shift in recent years with the rise of the #MeToo movement and the #TimesUp movement in Hollywood.
It is becoming much more acceptable, especially for young people, to talk openly about problems related to sexual harassment, assault or violence and to seek solutions. While it’s unfortunate that it takes an uprising like #MeToo or #TimesUp before people start evaluating what they can do to change things, it’s still important that we move in the right direction. The #MeTooK12 movement continues to be a platform for young activists. In my years of activism and campaigning, I have often encountered adults who would not listen to me and my peers. Whether it was because we were inexperienced or too young, I was always very disappointed when adults came to such conclusions. By devaluing and ignoring our experiences, these adults were unaware that they were missing out on valuable information that could help them make a positive impact.
From the civil rights movement to the current climate change movement, young people have often been a driving force for progress throughout history. We may not have a college degree or years of experience in an office, but we almost always have a direct impact on what we want to change, which gives us some credibility and experience. I encourage all students to participate. Political work is not for everyone, but there are so many ways to get organized. Just writing an article in the local paper or speaking up in class when classmates or teachers make inappropriate comments about sexual misconduct can make a difference.
We do not have to write a bill for the state legislature, but we all have a duty to speak out in some way. I appeal to my fellow students: Sexual misconduct will not go away if any of us remain silent. Our passion and fearlessness can make us a mighty force. Through my work, I know that when students come together, we can create real, tangible change. This article was originally published on Stop Sexual Violence in Schools.
As is the case with most issues, the solution to any problem starts with communication. In the case of school change, that can mean having the input of students who are directly affected. When schools, teachers, and administrators create a culture of open discussion, they can become more open to new ideas and more willing to listen to the concerns of students.. Read more about mcps studentvue and let us know what you think.