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Sexual Harassment in Schools

A school cannot be held liable for ignoring the usual schoolyard behavior such as teasing and cruel behavior. However, the school may be liable for failing to take reasonable action against serious and long-term student sexual harassment. Sexual harassment is defined as harassment on an individual on the basis of their gender. This type of harassment includes unwanted sexual advances, requests for sexual favors and other physical conduct. If a child claims that they are the victim of sexual harassment, their parent or guardian should investigate the situation as soon as possible. The parent or guardian should contact the child’s teacher and school to determine the severity of the situation. The school is required to take reasonable corrective action once they are informed of the harassment.

Sexual harassment in schools is now a major issue, even in the elementary schools. All schools must be cognizant of this ongoing problem and must try to rectify any situation of sexual harassment.

Not all situations of harassment constitute sexual harassment. Students can be cruel and often tease one another excessively. The following instances generally would not constitute sexual harassment:

  • Occasional name-calling.
  • Causal pushing and shoving on the playground.
  • A fight or instance that occurs only once.

The following instances generally would constitute actionable sexual harassment:

  • Aggressive sexual remarks on a constant and continual basis.
  • Repeated physical conduct, behavior or threats.
  • Repeated abusive touching or chasing.
  • Harassment of children identified as homosexuals.

The school has a duty to make reasonable efforts to rectify the harassment once notified by the parents of the harassed child. The school should have a plan in place to deal with sexual harassment. The plan should include a clear statement that sexual harassment is illegal and not tolerated. Further, the statement should include specific conduct that constitutes sexual harassment. The list should not be exhaustive though. Additionally, the statement should give children an idea of what their rights are with respect to sexual harassment.

Copyright 2012 LexisNexis, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc.

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