The Davis County School Board Tuesday adopted a new student sexual harassment policy - minus a provision that had created a stir among free-speech advocates.
"I think I was contacted by every talk-show host in Utah in the last two weeks" regarding the provision, Superintendent Richard Ken-dell said.The policy outlines district standards of sexual harassment, explains what a student or employee who is harassed can do to bring the perpetrator to justice, and details examples of conduct that may be considered harassment. That last provision is what got some people, including the American Civil Liberties Union and many district teachers, up in arms.
In a first draft the board considered two weeks ago, the examples included certain sexually derogatory words such as "whore," "fag," "the f-word" and others.
"Many teachers I've talked to are worried that (students) will just be teasing, saying things . . . and there will be a big to-do about it," said board member Kathie Dalton.
The ACLU was worried for a different reason - that the district was unconstitutionally curtailing free speech - and the aforementioned talk-show hosts had a heyday with that one.
The brouhaha prompted district ADA compliance officer David Doty, co-chairman of the committee that drafted the policy, to write Kendell a memo explaining that the U.S. Supreme Court in fact allows schools more latitude to restrict free speech. The two maintained that there was nothing legally wrong with the section.
"We're not talking about problems in society at large," Kendell said. "We're talking about what happens in school."
Kendell added that the policy's examples of possible sexual harassment are just that - examples - not the policy itself.
That, however, was only made clear in the final version of the policy voted on Tuesday.
The draft of the policy that the board initially considered stated that the examples, including the offending words, were "conduct that the district considers sexual harassment." In the final draft, that language was changed to "conduct that the district considers unacceptable and often a part of sexual harassment."
"A single word or (a single instance of) language may or may not be sexual harassment under the policy," Kendell said. "It all depends on the circumstances."
Nevertheless, Kendell and Doty decided that removing the specific words would be the greater part of valor, so the final version's example of unacceptable language simply prohibits "unwelcome and offensive name-calling or profanity that is sexually suggestive, sexually degrading, implies sexual intentions or that is based on sexual stereotypes or sexual preference."
"We're not trying to be thought police," Kendell said.
Other examples of unacceptable conduct in the policy include wearing clothes with obscene slogans, soliciting sexual favors, public conversations about sexual activities and that staple of high school pranksters, the wedgie.
Nevertheless, "these are still resolved very much on a case-by-case basis," board member Barbara Smith said.