EPSB committee amends policies
The Evangeline Parish School Board’s Policy Committee met Wednesday to approve updates on policies on sexual harassment and equal employment opportunity. Much of the explanation of the policies had to do with Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972, which deals with sexual harassment and sexual misconduct.
Title IX Coordinator for the district and Assistant Superintendent Michael Lombas explained to the committee the updates to the sexual harassment policy. He explained sexual harassment also falls under the Equal Employment Opportunity policy because, “When a person is so uncomfortable in the work place that they fear coming to work, then they do not have an equal opportunity.”
Lombas also explained a sexual harassment or sexual misconduct investigation is different from a general investigation, because it has more steps. There are procedures in place to alleviate the complaint and the school can take steps to alleviate the problem while doing the investigation. He gave the example of graphic graffiti, saying an investigation has to be conducted to find out who did it, but the graffiti should be removed in the meantime.
Title VII applies to employee sexual harassment and talks about unwelcome sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and other verbal or physical conduct of a sexual nature. Lombas said this applies to sexual harassment and sexual misconduct. Misconduct happens when sexual harassment is bad enough or involves a sexual act.
Under Title VII, an employee may not display sexually suggestive objects in the workplace or school setting; and quid quo pro sexual harassment such as demanding sexual favors accompanied by implied or overt promises or threats. Lombas gave an example of a teacher offering a student an A in their class in exchange for a sexual favor. Failure to forward any sexual harassment report or complaint will result in disciplinary action. Complaints may also be filed directly with the Director of Personnel.
Lombas said complaints may be filed years after the incident, but after waiting too long, the evidence may be gone. However, if a complaint is made, the person who hears the complaint has to forward the complaint or face disciplinary action. Lombas further said his office has to conduct the investigation and have it complete within 30 days. If something of a serious criminal nature is found, they would notify the district attorney. He added the complainant may also go to the police. If the school suspects something happens to a student, they are mandated to report it to the authorities.
As for student sexual harassment and sexual misconduct, the policy states sexually related misconduct includes any type of sexually coercive conduct, including threats, comments, jokes, or overtures of a sexual nature. Sexual harassment may also be likened to sexual bullying. The policy applies to all employees and volunteers, to the elected members of the School Board, and to all students of the district. It applies at school sponsored events on or off the school grounds, and in situations which are related to operations of the school. If an employee hears about an instance of sexual harassment or sexual misconduct, they are obligated to investigate, even if the alleged victim does not come forward to complain. “Failure to investigate shows willful indifference,” said Lombas.
For the complaint procedure, the policy originally said if a claim of sexual misconduct is brought against the principal of the school, the complaint should be brought directly to the Superintendent, Supervisor of Child Welfare and Attendance, or his/her designee, or the Title IX Coordinator. Lombas asked to change the wordage so that the complaint should only be brought to him, as he is the Title IX Coordinator. He said the Superintendent can only step in to render a decision after the Coordinator orchestrates the investigation. He said this aligns with every other sexual harassment policy, which does not mention Child Welfare and Attendance. If a teacher or guidance counselor receives a complaint from a student, they may bypass the chain of command of reporting to a principal, and report directly to Lombas. The Committee approved Lombas’ request.
If a student makes a complaint of sexual harassment or misconduct and is found to have lied, the student will face disciplinary action. The parents could also be punished by the court system.
With the Title IX policy on sexual harassment, the definition includes “actual knowledge,” which means there is first-hand knowledge of the incident. “If a friend of a friend of a friend told you, you don’t have actual knowledge. That’s hearsay, and that does not hold up in court,” said Lombas. He also said a formal complaint does not have to be in writing from the complainant. Lombas added that sometimes he has to write the formal complaint because the complainant refuses because they are either embarrassed or ashamed, but he has actual knowledge because they told him what happened. Lombas then is legally obligated to write the formal complaint.
For complaints against employees, if the investigation finds that sexual harassment or misconduct, the action may still violate the school’s code of conduct. Lombas said this could mean posts on social media or things said in public. He added that telling dirty jokes to a group of people where someone is offended, that can be a form of sexual harassment. Superintendent Darwan Lazard said it does not matter the intent of the person accused; the weight of the law sides with what the victim perceives.
All of the policies are in place to protect employees and students and to clearly spell out how to maintain a professional code of conduct. Lombas said they strive to maintain strict confidentiality when it comes to complaints and investigations, but stressed they are absolutely mandated to report any form of child abuse. “The number one thing we are charged to do in the school system is provide a safe environment for our students,” he said.