Douglas County School Board addresses workplace sexual harassment

Human resources department reviews practices, policies

Posted 2/26/18

In light of the recent heightened focus on sexual harassment in the workplace, the Douglas County School District revisited its policies around the issue at a Feb. 20 school board meeting. …

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Douglas County School Board addresses workplace sexual harassment

Human resources department reviews practices, policies

Posted

In light of the recent heightened focus on sexual harassment in the workplace, the Douglas County School District revisited its policies around the issue at a Feb. 20 school board meeting.

“Certainly we have seen, nationwide, some great concerns about this issue and we really wanted to understand where we are with this as a district, what our practices are,” said school board President David Ray.

Last October, several Hollywood actresses came forward with stories of sexual abuse from movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. The allegations initiated a nationwide movement encouraging individuals to share their stories of sexual harassment with the hash tag “#MeToo.”

At the school board meeting, Steve Colella, the district's chief human resources officer and acting legal counsel, led a presentation on sexual harassment and hostile work environment to the seven-member board.

“We didn't need Hollywood to shed light on this,” Colella said. “This is something that is important and it happens and just as important is how you react.”

Since the beginning of the 2016-17 school year, 17 allegations of sexual harassment/misconduct and related hostile work environment among employees and employees with students have been reported to the district, according to Colella.

Eight of the accused individuals are no longer employed with the district. The others were not terminated for a number of reasons, including the issue being a misunderstanding or the behavior stopping as soon as it was identified, Colella said in his presentation.

On the issues of sexual harassment and hostile work environment, Douglas County abides by federal and state law. It also has a thorough set of district policies that outline appropriate and prohibited behaviors in the workplace.

“Staff Conduct” guidelines emphasize the obligation to report any type of harassment, among employees and between an employee and student. District policies are listed at www.dcsdk12.org/board-education/board-education-superintendent-policies.

The district also holds annual training sessions on topics including respect at work, mandatory reporting and keeping students safe.

“The goal is to have the training, the way we process complaints, the way we talk about harassment across the district, help make reporting as comfortable as it can possibly be,” Colella said.

If the human resources department receives a report, it has an obligation to “thoroughly and thoughtfully investigate actionable allegations,” Colella said. Regardless of the outcome, the department meets with the accuser and the accused.

If the allegation involves a student, law enforcement is immediately contacted and the employee is placed on leave, Colella said. When the district gets the OK from law enforcement, parents are notified.

If a report involving another employee results in a termination, it's likely the details won't be released to the public.

“We treat it as private matter,” Colella said. “When that employee doesn't show up, it's understood that that employee is no longer with the district.”

Board members thanked Colella for his timely presentation. From the human resources team, Ray said he wants more data on trends seen in the district and more training for employees.

Board member Anne-Marie Lemieux requested that a future conversation address student-on-student harassment. She said she has had parents report to her kids' conversations that are “completely inappropriate.”

“What are we teaching our children about what's not acceptable to say and what's not acceptable to put up with,” Lemieux asked. “I'd request that we continue this conversation at the student level. It can't end here.”

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