Guidebook on Harassment Prevention Due Out

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While some school officials are battling over student-harassment policies in court, federal and state law-enforcement officials want others to know how to prevent such problems and deal with them fairly when they do occur.

The Department of Education and the National Association of Attorneys General this week planned to release a guidebook recommending procedures that school districts should adopt to prevent sexual, physical, and emotional abuse, and to punish students and teachers who violate those codes.

"We think we have developed a state-of-the-art guide to provide practical information of how to go about on a step-by-step basis creating a comprehensive program to ensure a safe learning environment," Richard W. Cole, the civil rights chief for the Massachusetts attorney general's office and a contributor to the guidebook, said in an interview last week.

"Protecting Students From Harassment and Hate Crimes: A Guide for Schools" will be sent to every school district in the country.

Its publication coincides with the climax of a legal battle over whether schools can be held liable for student-on-student harassment.

For More Information:

"Protecting Students From Harassment and Hate Crimes: A Guide for Schools" is free from the U.S. Department of Education, 400 Maryland Ave. S.W., Washington, DC 20202; (800) 872-5327. It will also be available on the Web by Feb. 1 at

The U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments last week in the case, Davis v. Monroe County Board of Education, and will likely decide by late June whether schools may be sued for students' actions against each other.

No Seconds

Regardless of past or current legal difficulties, all schools need explicit policies defining how they will react to allegations of harassment and hate crimes, according to the guide.

Those policies should ensure an "immediate investigation" and referrals to police if the acts are "violent or criminal in nature," it says.

If school officials determine that a violation has occurred, they need to punish the perpetrators and change procedures to ensure that the harassment doesn't happen a second time, the guide says.

It also offers checklists of what school officials should consider doing as they write their policies, and provides model policies adopted by state agencies and local districts.

While anti-harassment policies need to be specific and consistent, they should not be inflexible, said Norma V. Cantu, the Education Department's assistant secretary for civil rights.

'Repertoire of Options'

For example, she cites officials of a North Carolina district who went overboard when they suspended a 6-year-old boy for kissing a classmate in 1996.

The district's blanket policy against unwanted kissing should not have been applied in the case of the 1st grader, Ms. Cantu said.

"We want to avoid the cookie-cutter approach and put in [school officials'] hands a wide variety of approaches," she said in an interview.

Instead, the report says, schools need "a repertoire of options that consider the nature of the conduct and the age and identity of the perpetrator."

Even districts that have policies to deal with harassment may wish to review those published in the new guidebook to see if they may want to revise them, Ms. Cantu said.

Vol. 18, Issue 19, Page 20

Published in Print: January 20, 1999, as Guidebook on Harassment Prevention Due Out
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