KCS Harassment Policy

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of misinformation spread regarding the Knox County Schools employee and student harassment policies. I want share factual information, rather than trying to address every false claim that is being spread.

The Knox County Board of Education reviews every policy, every year. It is actually required by state law, that we review policies at least every other year, and that we have a schedule and a review timeline. The Tennessee School Boards Association recommends a one-year cycle, like the one we use in Knox County.

During policy review, many suggestions were sent in from community members. Some of them were in conflict with other policies and in conflict with state law. While discussing suggestions, it was realized that the current policy fails to even meet basic federal language, which is a problem. Because “sex” is the word that was left out, it becomes a HUGE problem when looking at actual protections regarding gender identity and sexual orientation.

Right now, we have gender and sexual orientation listed in a way that is not recognized federally AND without the ONE word that has stood the test of time, and has repeatedly been used in handing down decisions regarding discrimination and harassment cases. Most people do not understand that case law is a part of law because it shows exactly how laws have been interpreted and it sets a standard for other cases to follow. EVERYTHING in court decisions that protects our students regarding gender identity and sexual orientation and regarding discrimination and harassment has fallen under that umbrella.

To discard EVERY positive step that has been made, in exchange for language that gives people a false sense of safety, would be a travesty – and it is DEEPLY concerning that this was ever allowed to happen to our policies.  

What we DO have in our current policy is language that is more inclusive than any other language we have been sent as a “template” for improvement. I have not seen other policies that make it clear that NO harassment will be tolerated. Though the Metro Nashville policy has been repeatedly referenced, it is important to look at what it actually says:

The school system prohibits any form of harassment based upon age, religion, marital status, creed, disability, color, race, national origin, sexual orientation, gender identity, gender expression or appearance, or sex, including sexual harassment.

It DOES NOT say that the district prohibits any form of harassment, period. It qualifies “any form” with language that clearly does not include all possible harassment.

The Knox County Schools’ policy goes further, by including other forms of harassment that are not listed:

Knox County Schools does not discriminate in its programs or employment practices nor does it tolerate harassment for any reason including, but not limited to, …

The policy continues with

Harassment by any employee will not be tolerated.

This not only covers every kind of harassment of every employee, but it ensures that we are not creating an unintended consequence by being so specific that we create a category in which people cannot be protected.

The student policy also goes beyond other suggested templates, by removing the limitations others, like Metro Nashville impose:

Knox County Schools does not discriminate in its programs nor does it tolerate harassment for any reason including, but not limited to,…

Also included, is language similar to the employee policy:

Harassment of any student will not be tolerated.

I have repeatedly asked people to please give me ANY example of a case that has been found in favor of the person being harassed or discriminated against, which did NOT fall under the protective umbrella of “sex.” I still have nothing that shows that students or staff will have any kind of security with language dangling out there by itself, with no federally protected category to back it up. No one has shown me anything that gives that language any ACTUAL strength.

What I have been able to find, is a wide range of feeling about language that includes sexual orientation and gender identity. This includes Board members’ explanations of how they intend the policy to be carried out – and that is important.

After discussion with many community members, I have submitted a possible amendment to the policy, which maintains all federally necessary language, maintains the KCS language which ensures broad coverage of everyone, and adds a definition to show that the Board understands “sex” in the context of the EEOC definition:

”Sex” includes anything related to sex, gender, sexual orientation, or perception of such, as interpreted by the EEOC: “As the federal law enforcement agency charged with interpreting and enforcing Title VII, EEOC has concluded that harassment and other discrimination because of sexual orientation is prohibited sex discrimination.”

This amended language has been sent to Board members, for inclusion in this week’s agenda. Since an amendment is voted on before voting on the main motion, this amendment will only be included if two things happen: The Board votes with at least 5 in favor of the amendment AND the Board votes with at least 5 IN FAVOR of the main motion, which is attached to this weeks agenda:

Knox County Schools does not discriminate in its programs nor does it tolerate harassment for any reason including, but not limited to, harassment on the basis of actual or perceived gender, sexual orientation, sex, national origin, disability, religion, race, color, creed or any other Federally identified protected area.

Supporting the amendment does NOT mean that you also support removing the red-lined language. However, that definition will ONLY be added if the redlined changes are adopted.

I hope that this clears up some of the misinformation that is out there and that you will let others know that there is no attempt to reverse policy, but to correct language that gives a false sense of security, while maintaining language that has real support at all levels.

 

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