The District 202 Policy Committee voted last week to expand the definition of sexual harassment by an employee by removing language that limited the types of conduct that constitutes harassment. If passed by the District 202 School Board, the Evanston Township High School policy will be stronger than required by both State and federal law.     

Under the current sexual harassment policy, one of three criteria  must be met in order for the behavior to be considered sexual harassment. The criteria are: (1) submission to such conduct is made either explicitly or implicitly a term or condition of an individual’s employment; (2) submission to or rejection of such conduct by an individual is used as the basis for employment decisions affecting such individual; or (3) such conduct has the purpose or effect of substantially interfering with an individual’s work performance or creating an intimidating, hostile or offensive working environment. 

At the Dec 7 Policy Committee meeting, members voted to eliminate those provisions that, in essence, limited the types of behavior that would be considered sexual harassment.

If the provisions are removed from the sexual harassment policy, the Policy will provide as follows:

“The School District shall provide a workplace environment free of verbal, physical, or other conduct or communications constituting harassment on the basis of sex as defined and otherwise prohibited by State and federal law. District employees shall not make unwelcome sexual advances or request sexual favors or engage in any unwelcome conduct of a sexual nature.  Sexual harassment prohibited by this policy includes, but is not limited to, verbal, physical, or other conduct. The terms intimidating, hostile, or offensive include, but are not limited to, conduct that has the effect of humiliation, embarrassment, or discomfort. Sexual harassment will be evaluated in light of all the circumstances.”

“This is exactly what I was asking for,” said School Board and Policy Committee Member Jonathan Baum at the Dec 7 meeting. “Others will follow our lead in setting higher standards.  This makes criminality the floor.” 

Mr. Baum also pointed out at the meeting that this change would not only cover harassment by District employees of other employees, but also harassment of students by employees. 

The review of ETHS’s sexual harassment policy was spurred by an Illinois law passed in Nov 2017.  The law (Public Act 100-554) amended the Illinois State Officials and Employees Ethics Act and requires State agencies and local governmental units, including school districts, to adopt an ordinance or a resolution establishing a policy to prohibit sexual harassment by the beginning of 2018.

At the June 11 District 202 School Board meeting, a resolution identifying the school’s existing sexual harassment policy was discussed. Mr. Baum at that time asked the Board to take the opportunity to update the policy.

“This policy has been around for a long time, and it mirrors the limitations on what makes “sexual harassment” unlawful under State and federal law. But we have all learned a lot since this policy was enacted, and there’s no reason ETHS should tolerate conduct just because it isn’t illegal. We can – and should – do better.”

Ultimately the Board passed the resolution and voted to send the sexual harassment policy to committee for future review. After a review and thumbs up from the ETHS attorney, the revised policy was given a first reading by the Policy Committee which voted unanimously to recommend adoption to the full School Board. The policy will be voted on at the Board’s Jan. 14 meeting.

“Thank you for this change,” said Superintendent Eric Witherspoon to the Policy Committee.  “We want to send the strongest message possible on this issue.”