Friday, January 29, 2010

But I didn't mean it!

Sex! Sex! Sex! Aargh! I am sick and tired of seeing pictures of APS teachers making headlines for admitted or alleged sexual activity with students. Other New Mexico educators have also been accused of having sex with minor students. Last weekend’s Albuquerque Journal had an in-depth article on this disgusting and troubling trend. While what these teachers did to their students is criminal (if true) they aren’t the only people in our schools misbehaving when it comes to sex. I am saddened to report that an increasing number of your children behave badly in the related area of sexual harassment. The new APS website ( has a link to the district’s handbook on sexual harassment which I excerpted below:

“Physical sexual harassment is any unwanted sexually oriented physical act:
 Purposely bumping or rubbing against someone
 Kissing or holding a person against his or her will
 Blocking someone’s movements or preventing someone from moving freely
 Grabbing or touching someone, especially his or her private body parts
 Tearing or pulling at someone’s clothing”

“Verbal sexual harassment means offensive words and comments, spoken privately to someone or in front of others:
 Comments about body parts or rating someone’s body
 Sexually suggestive jokes
 Using sexual orientation (homosexuality or bisexuality) as an insult
 Sexually suggestive threats
 Spreading sexual rumors or stories”

“Nonverbal sexual harassment:
 Displaying obscene sexual material or placing it in someone’s locker or on someone’s desk or computer
 Writing someone’s name along with sexual remarks, suggestions, or drawings in public places, e.g., bathrooms or desks
 Staring or pointing at someone’s body or body parts
 Making obscene gestures”

In the past few weeks, I have suspended a number of male students for both verbal and nonverbal sexual harassment to other male students. Typically this involves one of more of the bulleted items listed above. The most frequent complaint we receive is from boys who are being called names referring to sexual orientation, making fun of body parts, or intimating lewd acts. When confronted by a principal, the boys often admit the behavior adding “But I was just kidding, I didn’t really mean it”. When I explain to the child that this is sexual harassment whether he meant it or not and the consequence is a one day out-of-school suspension the boys often panic and start to cry. I then call their mother with the child present and read the exact words or remarks their child said to the victim. Then the mothers start to cry or become very angry or embarrassed at their child’s behavior. I explain to parent and child that sexual harassment is against federal law (Title IX) and APS policy. I have yet to have a parent question my decision to suspend their child for this behavior. I suspect this is because we as adults know how demeaning it is to be harassed.

As I said in the beginning, we know this behavior is becoming increasingly prevalent among middle school students. The reasons why harassers do this are as individual as the harassers themselves: ignorance, poor formation, and peer pressure. But one 6th grade boy told me that he did it because he “wanted to be seen as cool by his friends and the older kids”. He tearfully told me he “was stupid for talking like that and had learned his lesson.” That is good and well and I certainly hope he did learn his lesson. But if it is true that up to 35% of students nationwide have been harassed, Mrs. Meyer and I are only scratching the surface. We need your help to deal with this behavior. Please talk to your child about sexual harassment and its consequences. Remind them it is against the law and the consequences if caught will be severe. Let them know it’s never funny and that the excuse that “I was just kidding” or “I didn’t mean it” will never hold up when they visit my office.

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