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School pamphlets spell out sexual harassment

January 07, 1997

By KERRY LYNN FRALEY

Staff Writer

Flirting with the cute new guy or girl in school could get a Washington County student in hot water if that flirting is unwelcome or makes the other person feel uncomfortable, according to pamphlets on sexual harassment aimed at middle and high school students.

Both pamphlets include a section explaining the differences between flirting and harassment and examples of other behavior, such as spreading sexual rumors or displaying sexual pictures, that could be considered sexual harassment under state and federal law.

A third pamphlet is geared for elementary school students.

The pamphlets, designed to present the Washington County Board of Education's sexual harassment policy for students in understandable terms, have proven a helpful tool in both preventing and dealing with policy violations, said board officials and school principals.

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Written by the Hagerstown branch of the American Association of University Women (AAUW) and the school board staff, the pamphlets went out to school principals just before the 1995-1996 school year, said Jamie Cannon, supervisor of support personnel who worked on the project at the school board's end.

Color-coded for elementary school, middle school and high school levels, the pamphlets define sexual harassment in simple terms, give examples of behavior that would be considered sexual harassment and explain what victims can do to stop it.

It was left up to individual principals whether to hand the pamphlets out to all students or to use them strictly for dealing with problems that cropped up, said Cannon, who is a lawyer. She said school officials have heard no negative comments from students, parents or staff.

"The pamphlets have been hailed as a positive thing," said Joe Millward, supervisor of pupil personnel and guidance, who sees the pamphlets as part of the system's overall proactive approach to sexual harassment in the schools.

While never a major problem in the school system, serious cases of sexual harassment are almost non-existent this year, said Millward, who believes the pamphlets complemented the existing guidance department curriculum.

"I think we're really trying to work on kids dealing with each other in an appropriate manner - boy-girl relationships that are healthy," Millward said.

The project stemmed from an educational equity roundtable sponsored by the AAUW branch in October 1993, said Yvonne Thomas, a Springfield Middle School teacher who was AAUW president at that time.

After studying the problem of sexual harassment in Washington County, members of the business community supported education in the schools - beginning at the elementary school level - as a way of heading off problems, said Thomas, now the local AAUW's education equity coordinator.

From that came the idea of presenting the school board's 1993 sexual harassment policy for students in simple pamphlets written at elementary, middle and high school levels, she said. It also resulted in a proposal to alter the incident reporting sheets to make them more easily understandable to students.

The pamphlets have reinforced existing efforts to educate students about sexual harassment and its consequences, said principals throughout the county, who praised the effort to clarify the school board's policy for students and parents.

"This was, I thought, very well done," said Maugansville Elementary School Principal Ed Meyers, who chose to distribute the pamphlets at the start of the last school year. "I think it is good for communication, for people to understand where we are in society."

Students should be taught the difference between acceptable and unacceptable behavior as early as possible, Meyers said.

"That's one of those things that people associate with older students," he said. "It applies to elementary students as well as high school students."

Once students understand their behavior would be considered sexual harassment - which is illegal - and they are told to stop, 99 percent of them do, said North Hagerstown High School Principal Dave Reeder, who handed the pamphlets out to his students last year.

In addition to deterring harassing behavior, the pamphlets educate students about their right to a school environment free of verbal and physical abuse, said Clear Spring High School Principal John Peckyno, who said he followed up distribution of the pamphlets with presentations at each class level.

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