Administration emphasizes importance of sexual misconduct prevention protocol
October 1, 2017
Recent cases where teachers engaged in sexual misconduct with students at both Brentwood School and Marlborough School have called into question the practices at local independent schools. Unwanted touching, late night phone calls, explicit photography and sexual intercourse are all forms of sexual misconduct. For Archer’s administration, which prides itself on creating a safe and welcoming community, preventing harm like this is imperative.
In recent years, Archer has been proactive about preventing sexual misconduct. The school has collaborated with Dr. Monica Applewhite to teach faculty, administration and the Board of Trustees about boundaries and how to prevent sexual misconduct at Archer, as well as helping to formulate Archer’s unique policies.
Applewhite has worked for 22 years studying abuse and helping organizations prevent and respond to incidents and allegations of abuse. She also has conducted over 1800 root-cause analyses, a research method used to trace the circumstances that allowed for an incident of abuse to occur. Applewhite is an expert on female and juvenile sexual offenders, responding to abuse survivors, organizations’ internal investigation protocols and current best practices to protect the vulnerable.
“Adolescents are vulnerable. You are going through the greatest period of change ever in your life. It is intense, and it is often emotionally fraught; add to that, there are students who are struggling with something at home,” Head of School Elizabeth English said. “You have got in some way a vulnerable population to begin with and that is why [sexual misconduct policies] have to be extra explicit.”
“What we did with Dr. Applewhite was first to understand why adults prey on kids this way,” English said. “Then put in place policies, very clear policies, that interrupt anyone who is [intending] to prey on a child.”
The intention of this protocol is to form clear boundaries between adults and children, which prevent potentially harmful interactions from becoming serious infractions. Each year, all teachers must sign off agreeing to Archer’s policies regarding student-teacher boundaries. Some rules on the list include: teachers are not allowed to meet students outside of school, text them or drive them.
“Dr. Applewhite is considered the gold standard,” Middle School Director Karen Pavliscak said. “This policy is not just a template. It was constructed with this school community in mind. For instance, some schools [say] no hugging — you may touch from shoulder to the elbow in light pats. That would not work here and…would read [awkwardly]. Here, we do hug, but we are mindful to ask if someone feels uncomfortable.”
Additionally, according to Pavliscak, all candidates seeking a job at Archer undergo an “extensive” background check. Employees also read case studies, so they are able to properly identify inappropriate relations.
“I want to do more work with students because I think it is equally important that students understand there are standards [and policies] in place,” English said. “When I started in independent schools there were no boundaries, and it was really disturbing, frankly. I think we have come a long way, but I think that is the results of people who are now adults — who were victimized as children — coming forward. It takes a lot of courage, and I would just say I commend and thank people who survived this kind of abuse because it has shown a light on the issue.”
Although Archer creates a strict on-campus protocol, gray area still exists in extracurriculars.
“Coaching is an interesting area because you get close to your coaches very quickly. Coaching can be a very intimate thing, as indeed teaching can, but coaches often do not have the same sort of supervision that adults in the day to day school community have,” English said. “We also have to help intervene when adults are going off the rails for their sake too. Always primarily…safety and wellbeing of students, but if we can help an adult from ruining their lives that is part of it too.”
In order to give students an extra layer of protection, Pavliscak emphasized the self-defense curriculum included in Archer’s Human Development classes.
If students want to report a suspected sexual misconduct case, there are various community members that provide assistance and support.
“The beauty of our student model is you go to your advisor, [Guidance Counselor Patty] Lancaster,…Division Director or the Head of School,” Pavliscak said. “Any one of those people would be a great first start, but Ms. English’s door is open, my door is always open.”