Allegations Part of Trend to End Harassment, Bullying

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(#YesALLDaughters plans a candlelit vigil tonight, Monday, Dec. 1, starting at 4:45p.m. at the Norman Schools Administrative Services Center, 131 S. Flood.)

The student walkout at Norman High School last Monday, followed by a rally that called attention to rape and bullying allegations at the school, has become, intentionally or not, part of a larger movement to eliminate sexual harassment.

#YesAllDaughters sponsored the walkout, which attracted hundreds of students and supporters. I wrote about it here. The event did draw local and national media coverage, but I think the local coverage downplayed the severity of the issue and seemed to take at face value the position of the Norman Schools administration, which is that it's safe for the girls who have made allegations to return to school.
Do the girls feel safe? That's the most important question. In my post, I argued that Norman Schools Superintendent Dr. Joseph Siano and Norman High School principal Scott Beck should step aside at least until after a criminal or other investigations have been completed. I have also urged the Federal Bureau of Investigation and federal Title IX officials to investigate.

I also made a formal request under the Federal Freedom of Information Act or Oklahoma Open Records Act for copies of any documents related to the allegations with the understanding that some information would need to be redacted to protect the privacy of the students. That request has been granted, and I expect to receive the documents in a few days. We'll see if they shed any light on the thinking and deliberation process used by school officials to deal with the situation. I'm unsure if any other media outlets have asked for the information.

My arguments about the case are mine alone, and I sense the people involved with #YesALLDaughters are fully competent to bring about justice. I listed its extensive demands in my last post about the issue. Its Facebook page is now followed by more than 14,000 people. The organization plans a candlelit vigil tonight starting at 4:45p.m. at the Norman Schools Administrative Services Center, 131 S. Flood.

I can also understand why some people, especially in Oklahoma, dislike federal intrusion, but sometimes it takes people removed from the local political scene to make sense of complicated yet disturbing allegations.

The issue of sexual harassment in our public schools is important, and the Norman case seems to be representative of a national trend. A recent journalism project, conducted by Mandy Van Deven, in conjunction with Newsweek, points out one study that shows, " .  .  . 66 percent of the 1,198 middle school students (ages 11 to 18) surveyed said they'd been sexually harassed at school. One in four reported being harassed daily." That's a surprisingly high number that should worry us greatly.

Deven writes, "Sexual harassment is so ubiquitous in schools that students and school officials have begun to view it as a normal part of the educational environment." I can't verify this statement in any quantifiable sense, but I do think new technologies and devices, social media outlets and other internet interaction have created additional opportunities for harassment and bullying. Of course, it's not the fault of the technology itself; it's how that technology gets used.

She also writes, "many school administrators do have their students' best interests in mind." I hope this is the case with the Norman administrators, but the issue needs to be fully vetted publicly not just for Norman school students but also for students at schools throughout the state.  Do the specific girls feel safe?  The fact we even have to ask such a question should make us all skeptical.

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