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High School Handbook Details Sexual Harassment

July 19, 1990

AMHERST, Mass. (AP) _ High schoolers who beam sexually charged stares at classmates or exchange snippets of intimate gossip could fall afoul of new guidelines to curb sexual harassment among students.

The rules are designed to make school a more comfortable place, the principal said Thursday.

″We had an idea that we should have a clear statement in our student handbook about sexual harassment,″ said Ilene Levitt, principal of the Amherst-Pelham Regional High School.

″I think in 1970 people would have turned up their eyebrows. This is 1990 and I think students understand.″

Jason Bray, incoming senior class vice president, said some may laugh at the handbook’s detailed offenses, but he thinks it was a good idea.

Sexual harassment at the high school generally takes the form of ″little things,″ said Bray, 17. But hearty flirting by a ″macho man″ can be upsetting, he said, ″especially to girls that aren’t popular and don’t know these people. I’m sure it made them very uneasy.″

Another incoming senior, 17-year-old Jennifer Emery, said she was surprised about the policy because she had never considered sexual harassment a problem at the school.

″Plenty of people have given me strange looks and said strange things to me but it’s all been a joke,″ she said.

At the National Association of Secondary School Principals, spokeswoman Maryellen Parker said she had not heard of a high school having a similar policy, but it is an issue the association has promoted for some time.

Sexual harassment ″is a widespread problem but it receives little attention from administrators or teachers so it’s good to see that there are policies that are beginning to occur. It’s long overdue,″ Parker said in a telephone interview from Reston, Va.

The policy, which has been approved in principle by school officials, lists several behaviors that would qualify as sexual harassment. Among them: staring or leering with sexual overtones, spreading sexual gossip, making unwanted sexual comments, exerting pressure for sexual activity and making unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature.

The guidelines will be printed in student handbooks this fall, pending a few changes in language that do not affect the substance of the draft, said School Committee Chairwoman Joan Hanson.

″It’s something that several people have felt for a long time,″ Hanson said. ″Times have changed.″

While the focus is on students, the guidelines also point out that sexual advances from adults at the school are not appropriate.

Possible punishment includes a parent conference, apology to the victim, detention, suspension, expulsion, and in cases of physical assault, referral to police, Levitt said.

The school probably will rely most heavily on the first two avenues, she said.

Levitt said it may be hard to make a determination on reports of leers and gossip, but at the very least there will have been discussion of the problem.

″We have a sense of humor, too,″ she said. ″There’s certainly sexual behavior that’s appropriate among adolescents. We certainly aren’t Puritans.″

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