Thursday, September 11, 2014

The District's Real Response

This is good news.

It's beginning to look like Seattle Public Schools is finally going to take real action in response to the reported rape of November, 2012 and how that case exposed district failures in both prevention and response to sexual assault and harassment complaints. The real action from the District now includes improvements to both prevention and response. There had been nothing but talk so far, but now we're starting to see signs of real action - and, of course, the usual amount of forming a committee to make a plan to talk about proposing changes.

This real action includes:

Still remaining are:
  • Revisions to the Sexual Harassment Policy (the task force will take a year)
  • Training of Title IX Officers (no promises)
  • Staff training (Coming soon.)
  • Posting of required Title IX notices (Coming soon!)
  • Issuance of required written notifications of Title IX rights (referenced in revised procedure)
And, of course:
  • Actual compliance
Regrettably, the actual compliance may never come. Better rules don't help if people don't follow them, and Seattle Public Schools has a very poor record when it comes to following rules, enforcing rules, or holding people accountable for violating rules.

But let's give credit where credit is due. The credit should go first to those who did the hard work to shame the District in the national and local press which has caused them to take action. They would never have taken action without that. Credit should also go to those within the District who are now shuffling towards action and those few within the District who are driving that movement against the natural resistance.

21 comments:

mirmac1 said...

I believe members of board have applied pressure to make this happen.

Charlie Mas said...

The draft procedure looks pretty darn good on the first scan.

One concern: It calls for a "periodic" review committee whereas the current procedure calls for an annual one.

I don't trust the district with the word "periodic" since they have proven themselves incapable of honest compliance with "annual".

Charlie Mas said...

Let's presume that the Board began applying pressure in February following the appeal. That presumes that they had no knowledge of any problems prior to that date - which is not entirely credible or admirable, but is the most conservative estimate.

If this is start date, then they needed to apply pressure for six months before the staff made any movement. That's not very good, is it? Especially considering the fact that they had everything - including a policy that required an annual report (that we still don't have) and a procedure requiring an annual task force and review (that we still don't have) - on their side.

If the Board was pushing for this and it took them this long to get this little, then we have a pretty ineffective Board.

mirmac1 said...

Damned if you do, damned if you don't.

Charlie Mas said...

The school district has new procedures for field trips. That's good.
The school district is writing new procedures for sexual harassment and assault. That's good.
The school district will convene a task force to review the sexual harassment policy and recommend revisions. That's good too.

But they don't address the problem.

While the new procedures and policies are sure to be an improvement over the old ones, the old ones weren't the problem. The problem was that people didn't follow the old procedures or policies. The state and federal laws, by the way, are not changing, which is fine because there's nothing wrong with them. The problem then, now, and going forward is not that the rules aren't good enough. The problem was, is, and continues to be that people don't follow the rules.

So while I'm gratified to see the District take action to update the procedures and policies, the response will continue to be off-topic and inadequate if they don't address compliance. And I haven't seen one step towards improved compliance. In fact, I haven't even seen anyone lean towards improved compliance.

The District's failure in response to the reported rape at NatureBridge in November 2012 was not a failure of procedure but a failure of compliance. The victim's family didn't complain that the procedures were inadequate, but that compliance was absent. The District, for their part, continue to deny any failure of compliance and continue to defend the non-compliance of their staff. This defense of non-compliance is at the heart of the Distict's failure and no amount of attention or action on peripheral issues will matter if they fail or refuse to address the compliance issue.

The solution for the District is not to write new procedures but to enforce their procedures and to hold people accountable when they violate them. They have the tools to hold people accountable, they simply choose not to use them. Worse, they are not even motivated to try. Their impulse is to protect their reputation instead of the students. Their insistence that no procedures, policies, or laws were violated is not only absurd, it precludes them from doing the exact work they need to do to make steps forward.

So it's great that they are improving the rules, but none of it will matter if they continue to ignore the rules.

Charlie Mas said...

Damned if you drag your feet and respond to bad press instead of legitimate student safety concerns, damned if you don't.

Or course they would have been praised if they had taken decisive action in February. Too bad they didn't. Too bad they have been actively participating in the whitewash.

Eric B said...

Not that it necessarily excuses inaction, but keep in mind that there was a month or so of board time lost to superintendent turnover. There has also been a lot of pushback from staff on projects that the board wants (eg start times) that take a fair amount of staff time.

Assuming good intentions, I could envision a scenario where staff said that the new policy would be pushed out too fast if it was done before the end of school, so it was delayed to mid to late summer. That then went another months due to the unforeseen superintendent change and/or scheduling conflicts with the very limited number of meetings and work sessions over the summer.

All of that is speculation. I don't have any inside info into what happened, but I think this is a reasonable scenario that doesn't assume an ineffective board.

mirmac1 said...

The old board would be going to Burgess wine parties.

Anonymous said...

Trainings? The blind leading the blind reading from sheets? According to an expert with a PhD in education who has done this work for international corporations and non-profits for 25 years, it would take several months of full time research to develop the right training for both staff and students.

That's what we're all about. Why doesn't the District ask us for help? The District has a terrible track record.

SSAIHS

Charlie Mas said...

No amount of action that the district staff takes going forward will excuse the board's failure to enforce policy and hold staff accountable in the past. The only thing that will fix that failure is for them to go back and do it right. They need to make a real determination about who was supposed to take action, what actions they were supposed to take (per the procedure, policy, regulation and law), and whether they took those actions. Then they have to hold people accountable for their failures - if they can.

They can, I suppose, determine that all of the failures were committed by Mr. Banda and Mr. Apostle and that none of the current staff violated any policies or procedures in any way. They could make that determination, but I don't think they can do so honestly.

Charlie Mas said...

Actually, there is one other thing that the board could do. They could enforce a policy - any policy. They could hold the superintendent accountable - for anything.

It's what every board candidate says they will do but something that no board has ever done.

Larry said...

"Let's presume that the Board began applying pressure in February following the appeal. "

Presumptions are different from hard facts.

Linh-Co said...

I'm going to give the board the benefit of the doubt. I wouldn't be surprised if it took this much effort to get some action from central office.

It took Sue Peters over 2 months to get cost breakdowns of math textbooks and she relentlessly asked multiple times.

Transparency Please said...

What Linh-co says. The district keeps the board in the dark. The district has been working on the prek initiative for 3 years and the board knew NOTHING until a constituent brought the prek initiative to the board's attention 2 months ago. Prek is a major initiative, too.

mosfet said...

As Melissa mentioned earlier, the GHS PTSA's minutes show that GHS parents and faculty has (at least last year) didn't care about adhering to field trip policies (at least in 2013). If you go to their PTSA Board minutes from 9/16/13 and 11/19/13, they mention that one teacher was formally reprimanded for failure to keep students in line of sight. The PTSA was trying to get the reprimand removing stating that, "The reprimand was for something that is a common problem that is rarely enforced (keeping students in constant visual contact), yet they have singled out an individual...to enforce" (9/16/2013).

If you're going to be legally responsible for other people's children -- not to mention liable for their safety -- you should try to follow the procedures you already have in place.

I wish we lived in a world where we could rely on all high school students to be responsible young adults, but the GHS 2012 NatureBridge field trip (where students pretty much ran wild both nights) showed that 15 and 16 year olds typically need more supervision.

Anonymous said...

Here is an interesting read:


http://www2.ed.gov/documents/press-releases/west-contra-costa-california-letter.doc

Doesn't sound like SPS had any better existing Title IX structure than this school district.

-SWWS

Puffin said...

KPLU coverage of task force formation:
http://www.kplu.org/post/seattle-schools-convene-task-force-review-handling-sex-assault-claims

mirmac1 said...

SWWS, it was very helpful to see what OCR (at least the Bay Area office) expects to see from districts in the event of sexual harassment complaints.

mosfet said...

Listened to the KPLU interview. According to health surveys that students take, 7-8% of SPS students have been "physically forced to have sex," so at least 7-8% have been raped (not all coercion is physical).

Charlie Mas said...

The problems with the District's response to the reported rape in 2012 wasn't bad policies or procedures, it was non-compliance with the policies and procedures. No one followed the rules, no one cared about the rules, the rules weren't enforced, no one was held accountable for violating the rules, and, even now, the people who should be doing the enforcement and holding people accountable are, instead, defending the actions of those who broke the rules.

The problem wasn't and isn't bad policies and procedures, so writing new policies and procedures doesn't address the problem. The problems was and is a culture of lawlessness and until the District addresses that culture, then they haven't addressed the problems with their response to the reported rape, they haven't learned anything, and they haven't improved anything.

Anonymous said...

Mosfet

Why was a teacher reprimanded 9/16/13 but not the Garfield teachers who failed to chaperone resulting in the ecology trip tragedy? How do you believe these teachers should be held accountable when the District failed to do so along with the principal who authorized the trip without a male chaperone? Can you explain why someone was reprimanded in one instance but not in another when there is an obvious correlation between the failure to supervise and the actions students were allowed to take?

Mother