The Pleasanton school board recently received an update about how the district has been implementing its new sexual harassment procedures by increasing communication and changing the overall culture of accountability on campuses.
"I think the first step to fixing the culture that exists, at least the high school level, is recognizing that sexual harassment … isn't just something that the monster under the bed does; it's something that people around you people you see in the hallways do," Student Trustee Annabelle Kim said during the Sept. 22 meeting.
"I think the sooner we realize that, the sooner we can fix it and the sooner we can address it," Kim added.
Over the summer, the trustees approved a new board policy aimed at looking ways to communicate with students how sexual harassment on campus will not be tolerated and that all complaints will be thoroughly investigated.
Apart from documents being updated to match student and staff feedback that was added to the new policy, the district also created a 11-inch-by-17-inch poster with information on sexual harassment and steps on what to do if someone is experiencing anything. That poster will be hung throughout bathrooms and general areas throughout the schools.
Another way schools increased their communication efforts was when administrators facilitated in-person classroom presentations on sexual harassment for grades 6-12.
During the pandemic, Leslie Heller, director of student services and principal of Village High School, said a lot of students pointed out how the sexual harassment presentation didn't feel effective on getting the point across.
"They didn't feel that students were really taking them seriously or paying attention as much as we felt that that topic ensued," Heller said.
So this year, principals like Jonathan Fey at Amador Valley High School, took a more hands on approach by visiting classrooms.
"I think one of the things that we pushed really hard and pushed home on with our students was this idea about commentary and that it doesn't matter if you know your audience, you don't know who's listening to you," Fey said.
On the topic of increased communication between students and administrators, Foothill High School principal Sebastian Bull said that Foothill will be pushing for its student advisory group to meet more frequently so students can continue to bring up their concerns.
But aside from communication, the policy also focuses on changing the culture around accountability.
"One of the bigger items too, in terms of accountability, is what's the follow-up?" said Ed Diolazo, deputy superintendent of student support services. "What's the follow-up for the complainant or the victim and then what's the follow-up for the alleged offender in this whole process? That again is really important for us -- to get back to the students so they know what we did as an administration based on this complaint."
The complaint process falls under administrative regulations and not the new board policy, which means that not much has changed in the procedures or repercussions for when someone files a complaint.
All complaints must go through the Title IX office and will be investigated alongside school resource officers to ensure the complaint falls under sexual harassment and not anything more physically serious like abuse or battery, which falls under a different board policy that involves police intervention.
However, if a student is found in violation of sexual harassment, then according to board policy they can get anything from parent and police intervention, to suspension or expulsion, depending on the severity of the situation.
"With student discipline, it can be very gray. So there are a lot of possible consequences," Heller said. "It does depend on each situation, but we just wanted to be very clear that we do have consequences when a student is found to be in violation of our education code that is determined to be sexual harassment."
One of the big questions that Kim asked was about that complaint process, and specifically how the district was planning on building a deeper trust with students so that they feel comfortable speaking up in the first place.
"A lot of students don't want to report that in the first place if they don't have concrete video evidence, which in a lot of sexual harassment cases there's not," Kim said.
Heller said that one of the things that has changed in the reporting process is that administrators and those investigating the claim will be checking in on the person who filed the report once the whole process is done. Even if they don't necessarily find anyone at fault after due process investigation, district staff said they want to continue supporting the complainant after the investigation ends to build better relationships with students so they are more comfortable seeking help in the future.
"We still would not be able to share with them what kind of discipline that happened, however, we would be able to document their report, and we would be able to document the parties that were involved, so that we, at least as a school site, would have more information about what we're seeing," Heller said.
"It also might create a trusting relationship between a student and a site administrator," Heller added. "Even if the outcome is not necessarily a discipline outcome, it would at least be an opportunity for education, and an opportunity for students to find a trusted adult on campus that they would feel comfortable coming to in the future."
Trustee Mary Jo Carreon also said she wanted to see more data, but with how current students are feeling about the new sexual harassment policies and whether or not it is making any difference.
She also wanted to see more presentations on showing students what to do in these situations where students see sexual harassment happening to others.
That feeling of wanting to show students how to help those in need rather than be a bystander was also shared with Trustee Joan Laursen.
"Those of us of a certain age have experienced a great deal of sexual harassment in our lives, and it's not something new," Laursen said. "It is a cultural thing, it is a norm, it is a peer pressure thing and if you as a peer, or you as a teacher, or a staff member, tolerate and just let it go, nothing changes."
PUSD does start teaching children in fourth and fifth grade about sexual harassment in order to prevent future issues. But even with these new policies and practices being implemented, staff and administrators continued to double down on the support for all students and said that the best way they can help, is if students continue to come to them for help.
"Oftentimes, they may not want to come into the office, which I know is a scary thing in general, but there are a lot of trusted adults," Bull said. "So whether it be a teacher or counselor, they can talk to you, and then that teacher counselor will pass on information to us and then we can follow up from there."