by Lauren Fischer www.nea.org/neatoday
Four years ago, several boys at Avondale Middle School in Rochester Hills, Michigan, were suspended for sexual harassment. The boys thought they were just flirting.
The very next week, Maria Kopicki's eighth-grade criminal law class decided to rework the school sexual harassment policy.
That policy banned four broad categories of harassment: verbal abuse, pressure for sexual activity, persistent remarks about one's body, and physical assault.
The class expanded the list, put in specifics, and divided offenses into three levels of severity.
Deliberate staring is mildly offensive, they decided. Joking about sexual orientation is a moderate transgression. Threatening sexual behavior is severe.
The students said the difference between flirting and harassment is that harassment makes someone uncomfortable. "Ninety percent of the time, people do not think their behavior is harassment," says Kopicki.
The project won first prize in Michigan's Project Citizen competition, which is cosponsored by the National Conference of State Legislatures. Kopicki's class and their work drew national attention with a Nickelodeon feature.
The school board approved the new guidelines for the school district. Avondale Middle School reports a 90 percent drop in sexual harassment complaints since the new policy took effect.
For more: E-mail Maria at Maria.Kopicki@Avondale.k12.mi.us.
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