RICHMOND -- The West Contra Costa school board on Wednesday unanimously approved policies intended to help prevent harassment without asking to review or approve the procedures staff must follow to implement and enforce. them.
The district hired John Shields from the educational consulting company ETR to help revise policies for district staff related to sexual harassment and gender-based harassment after the federal Office of Civil Rights found rampant sexual harassment on campuses. The $125,508 contract runs through June.
During the meeting, Shields told the trustees that the detailed procedures for processing reports of harassment were spelled out in regulations that were not included in the board's agenda packet, when in fact the procedures had not yet been written. Outside the meeting, the consultant admitted the procedures were not yet completed. When asked when they would be available for public review, he responded: "When they're done." He also indicated he did not intend to present them to the board for approval because that wasn't required.
The district's policies and procedures were revised in the wake of a report last fall by the federal Office of Civil Rights that found rampant sexual harassment districtwide. There have also been complaints of bullying and gender discrimination at some campuses.
The new policy approved by the board states: "An employee who receives such a complaint, otherwise becomes aware, or personally observes possible harassment shall immediately report it to the district's compliance officer or the principal or vice principal of the relevant school site. Such reports will be processed in accordance with Administrative Regulation 5145.7."
When asked Thursday how they could approve a policy that included a regulation that they hadn't seen and hadn't yet been developed, some trustees said the regulations should come back to the board for approval.
"If he had personal knowledge that it was still incomplete and in process, that would be misleading," said board President Charles Ramsey, regarding Shields' statements to trustees. "We have to rely on comments made. He did say it was in the administrative regulation. We need to get that approved as part of the process."
During the meeting, Trustee Elaine Merriweather asked that the policies be amended to include gender identification and discipline for students who falsely claim to have been bullied or harassed, in light of a recent incident at Hercules High, where a transgender student said he was sexually assaulted then later recanted the story. Superintendent Bruce Harter said that was an excellent point and promised to bring the policy revisions back to the board but did not mention the regulations.
District resident Scottie Smith, who has represented some students who have filed harassment claims, said the policies and procedures should be adopted together.
"The board needs to read it and approve it," she said. "Then it's open for the public to understand and to know that it's there. That's transparency."
Trustee Madeline Kronenberg said she expects the regulations to outline the steps that would be taken after a report is made, including how the report is investigated and whether it will be reviewed by administrators or sent directly to the board. The board hired Shields specifically to help clarify this, she said.
"There's no intention by this board to have regulations that aren't crystal clear to the public," she said. "My intent is that upon it's completion, it would be brought back, and he would be there and he can explain if there are things in there we don't understand."