School of Education: Legal Seminar Videos

Sexual Harrassment: Scenario 2 Discussion


Scenario #2 Discussion

Dr. Erma Jean Sims,
Sonoma State University

In order to avoid criminal actions being taken against him for statutory rape, so the time frame for getting this reported to our principal is very short now. I'm going to take another comment please.

(Inaudible student speaking).

It's a good point, if she is eighteen, in this instance we are looking at a child who's fifteen years old, but if she is eighteen then she is by law able to give an informed consent. So the age of the child becomes very important. We want to know the range of ages in a high school would probably be anywhere from fourteen, fifteen, up to eighteen. So the age of the child becomes very important fact in this scenario. Thank you for that. One more comment.

(Inaudible student speaking).

It's a good point. The question is, at what point and how soon do we bring in a school, other school district personnel, like a school psychologist? We want to start with our on-site principal or vice principal. The thing that principals and vice principals hate most is being the last to know. The police are at the high school. They're in the process of handcuffing Mr. Smith and the principal has not a clue. You can see how you might be on the carpet with this one. So let's start there. They're being paid to advise you and in most incidences they will want to contact the police themselves to make sure that an accurate record is filed, that things get handled very quickly if this child is in fact under age. I'll take one more comment and then we'll look at' .

(Inaudible student speaking)

Yes, yes, you're going to have a legal obligation to report as well; your notes around this incidence are going to be very, very important. What did she actually say to you? What were her thoughts and feelings around the incidence is very important. As soon as the principal has been informed it's best if he informs the parent. That's what he gets paid to do, is to have very formal interactions with parents. So let's let him initiate the dialogue with the parents. They will certainly want to pull you in and get as much information as you have about this incident. Is the school employee 'how about this incidence where you as a teacher know that Mr. Smith is having sexual intercourse or sexually harassing incidents? We talk now about your responsibility to get the facts to report it immediately. Many times employees are afraid or nervous about, as they say, snitching or telling on another employee. Our first concern has to be for the child. If Innocence is in fact fifteen she is an innocent victim and our responsibility it to protect her. Mr. Smith knew what he was doing and so our loyalty is to our students rather than to a colleague, even if it's our best friend, to report this incident of misconduct and sexual harassment. Can the school district be held financially reliable for Mr. Smith's conduct? Well there's a good possibility if in fact Innocence is fifteen, Mr. Smith is going to be arrested and tried for statutory rape and if found guilty will be incarcerated. What's going to happen to the school district? What's their liability? I want to take a look now at the Supreme Court decision in the Gepser case. Based on a 1998 Supreme Court Case: Gepser vs. Lago Vista Independent School District a student who is sexually harassed by a teacher may only recover damages from a school district if an official with authority over the teacher knew about the misconduct and was 'deliberately' indifferent. Notice the court had the same ruling in the last case so that's one of the reasons that we want to make sure that we alert our site supervisor. That person as you are aware will certainly want to contact the superintendent or schools; so that the superintendent can immediately contact the attorneys on retainer to start to prepare to defend the school district against these allegations and to protect them from any additional liability. So we know that we've got to inform the principal or vice principal and if they don't do anything, turn their head, deny that it happened, pretend it didn't happen or take no action, and then the district is going to be liable. I'm going to take a couple comments or questions after this segment and then we will be taking a fifteen-minute break. Any questions or comments? Yes, please.

(Inaudible student and teacher speaking)

I'm going to repeat her question and it's certainly a very good one and certainly more common. And that is that you've heard from another student or from another colleague or through the rumor mill that Mr. Smith is in fact having a sexual relationship with Innocence. In court as you know there is the hearsay rule. You don't know the teacher in this instance, who heard the rumor or was told they didn't actually see it or was not actually informed by Innocent that it occurred. But the good news is that there are at least twenty-two exceptions to the hearsay rule. And if you have that many exceptions, why do you have a rule? But as teachers we have a legal responsibility to follow up on these rumors or hearsay. So we have to take them as serious enough to report it to the principal or vice principal. We also, if you're really nervous the easiest thing to do is to tell the administrator right away; let them do the investigation on site. Let them bring Innocence in and question her in a way that doesn't alert Mr. Smith as to what's going on. We don't want him fleeing the state and not being held liable for his misconduct. The other thing is that if you have the kind of relationship with Innocence that she would trust you enough to share this information with you; you could ask her for some information after having alerted the school administrator. Because it involves a colleague of yours it's easier if you just alert the school administrator and then step back. Let them handle it that is the easiest way to go, but your absolutely right we do have to report innuendos and report things that come through the rumor mill, things that you heard even in a casual conversation as potential culpable sexual harassment.

CREDITS: Instruction and Content by Dr. Erma Jean Sims, Sonoma State University. Videography and Technical support by Mark Niemann, Sonoma State University