Administration may have violated policy
Meyers, Schwietering say harassment policies were followed, mediation occurred
November 22, 2016
Echo’s Maggie Bahnson, Sophie Yarosh, Hannah Leff, Sumaya Mohamed, Devin Raynor, D’aviyan Robinson, Mimi Fhima and Annabella Strathman contributed to this report along with reporters Raphy Gendler and Sam Orloff.
A change was made in the article in reference to Section/File 413, “Harassment and Violence.” Echo has updated the story to reflect the most recently revised policy and not the policy found in the student handbook. Echo apologizes for this mistake.
This story has been updated to include information from Richard Kreyer, the district’s human resources director.
An Echo investigation found Park’s administration may have handled an alleged incident of religious harassment or violence in violation of policies found in the student handbook and Section 400 of School Board policies.
Student witnesses alleged a male senior pulled off a freshman female’s hijab in the A3 hallway Nov. 14.
Assistant principal Kari Schwietering said the incident and investigation occurred according to policy.
“From a school standpoint, we certainly follow through in the ways that we would anytime there’s an incident in our school,” Schwietering said. “So we pulled in students, we had multiple conversations. We pulled in staff and talked with staff. We looked to video and investigated the situation.”
Questions arise about policy use
The alleged incident could constitute religious harassment or violence, according to Section/File 413, “Harassment and Violence.”
According to Section 413’s “Reporting Procedures” section, schools must properly file complaints.
“Any person who believes he or she has been the victim of harassment or violence … or any person with knowledge or belief of conduct which may constitute harassment or violence … should report the alleged acts immediately to an appropriate school district official designated by this policy,” the policy states.
According to School Board clerk and parent Karen Waters, the situation seemed to have been handled appropriately.
“When there’s an incident between two students, we want the two students to work directly with the appropriate administrator, teacher, counselor (or) whoever it is. In my opinion, that process worked very, very well,” Waters said. “And I had the impression that both sets of parents also believed that the process worked very, very well.”
Page 27 of the student handbook has a form titled “Religious, racial or sexual harassment and violence report form,” which Schwietering said was not used.
“Not the complaint form; (the student filled out) a form that we use for investigation in the Student Office,” Schwietering said. “No, the (handbook form) was not filled out.”
The freshman and witnesses who reported the alleged incident to the Student Office confirmed the form they filled out was not the complaint form in the student handbook.
When asked if it is school policy to use the complaint form found in the student handbook, Schwietering said it is not.
According to the most recently revised policy on harassment and violence, the use of formal reporting forms is not mandatory.
Students signed an online document confirming their understanding of the handbook’s policies in their social studies classes at the beginning of the school year. Echo obtained a paper copy of an agreement from the Student Office.
According to Meyers, the handbook does not always reflect current policies used by administration.
“Parts of that handbook are reviewed on a cycle, so maybe every two or three years it’s reviewed,” Meyers said. “Some of those terms might be older.”
The district policy on harassment and violence was last updated by the School Board Oct. 10, 2016.
Waters said some policies have not been updated recently.
“Some of them are mandated by law. Every year we have to review them. (For) some of them it’s a three or four-year cycle,” Waters said. “One (policy) that I just took a look at, at the DPAC (District Parent Advisory Council) meeting on Tuesday (Nov. 15), the last date that it was looked at was 2007.”
Waters said the School Board creates policy with oversight from the state and the Minnesota School Boards Association.
“Some of these policies are actually dictated to us by the State of Minnesota and our district belongs to an organization called Minnesota School Boards Association and that entity helps write what is called model policy that different school districts can review and adapt,” Waters said.
MSBA’s director of legal policy services Cathy Miller said the MSBA makes policies for school districts. She said they use laws and information from the Department of Education.
Miller said School Boards are supposed to follow the policies they set.
“The courts have said … they have the force and effect of law,” Miller said.
According to the student handbook, Section/File 413, “Harassment and Violence,” was adopted May 24, 1982 and was most recently revised in 2016.
Waters said situations are handled using a “chain of command.”
“We always want to go from lowest to highest. So it would be between the teacher and the student, then the principal and the student and then you go from the principal to the superintendent and then the next level is bringing concerns directly to the School Board,” Waters said.
Waters said she hoped the district would continue to work hard on racial equity measures.
“I’d like to see some professional development take place so that we take every learning opportunity that we have to learn and grow. That’s how we’re going to make the system better,” Waters said.
Meyers was unavailable for another interview Nov. 18.
Administration does not specify human rights officer
The harassment and violence policy calls for a district human rights officer to conduct an investigation when a report is filed.
“By authority of the school district, the human rights officer, within three days of the receipt of a report or complaint alleging harassment or violence prohibited by this policy, shall undertake or authorize an investigation,” the policy states.
Park administration has not provided Echo with the name of a specific human rights officer, however, according to Section 413 the School Board designated the director of human resources as human rights officer.
District human resources director Richard Kreyer said complaints regarding human rights come to him.
“If there is a human right complaint, it would ultimately come to me to make sure that it was investigated, properly handled,” Kreyer said.
Kreyer said he normally handles issues involving staff members. He said he has not dealt with any student issues this school year.
Kreyer said policy instructs the administration to report incidents to him or Metz.
“The report taker, or the building Principal, is supposed to contact either myself or the superintendent to let them know that there is something that has happened,” Kreyer said.
Meyers did not name an individual who holds the human rights officer role.
“We have cultural liaisons. We have people in the building that may be the contact person, in terms of reporting bullying, reporting those things, that’s our Student Office and so (the human rights officer) is almost interchangeable. It would be our assistant principal and the director of students. That’s most of the time where that information flows to. In our school, it really functions as the Student Office, but like I said, (with) some of the terms, you may not see the label above the door but the people are there.”
District policy in the handbook instructs the school to make clear who the officer is.
“The school district shall conspicuously post the name of the human rights officer(s), including mailing addresses and telephone numbers,” the policy states.
Schwietering said she is unsure whether students or the administration can identify a human rights officer.
“I don’t even know that I necessarily am (the human rights officer), I would say no, (students) don’t. The terminology may come out of legislation but for us the report, and anyone can fill out the report,” Schwietering said. “The matter of all I do is we just have a common place where it all gets compiled together.”
Schwietering said, in cases of bullying, students should contact her.
“If there’s a report of bullying that needs to be reported that goes to me,” Schwietering said.
Schwietering said a human rights officer did not receive an official complaint form from this incident — the administration did not classify the incident as bullying.
The revised policy is defining who the building report taker is to be.
“The building principal, the principal’s designee or the building supervisor (hereinafter the “building report taker”) is the person responsible for receiving oral or written reports of harassment or violence prohibited by this policy,” the policy states.
The most recently revised policy states sending reports to the human rights officer is the responsibility of the building report taker.
“Upon receipt of a report, the building report taker must notify the school district human rights officer immediately, without screening or investigating the report,” the policy states. “Failure to forward any harassment or violence report or complaint as provided herein will result in the disciplinary action against the building report taker.”