Our Kids Are Not Alright

As a parent, as a woman, as an MCPS teacher, I have had so many reactions to this week's avalanche of social media reports of sexual harassment and assault from young women all across the county.

Sadness - that students are suffering in this way. Admiration - at their courage in speaking. Anger - that these students felt the only way to be heard was through social media. Concern - that many have been traumatized and some have been accused without any due process.

There are so many things to unpack, and so many stories to understand. But the first question -- to every student involved -- has to be 'are you alright'? The second - 'how can we support you'? The third - 'how can we make sure you have the resources you need to get through this'?

Because clearly the kids are NOT alright. As a community, as a school system, as a county - we have a lot of work to do to create a culture of respect and kindness that infuses all of our public and private spaces, and every aspect of our work as a society.

One thing that stands out to me particularly -- a failure of due care, and a culture in some schools that is lacking in trust. Students report telling school personnel about incidents of sexual harassment or assault with zero action. Students report experiencing sexual harassment by school staff. Both - utterly inexcusable.

One of the essential roles of schools in the 21st century is to help keep students safe, and to take action when they are not. Every day, every student, in every school, should feel safe, valued and welcome being exactly who they are. Every student should have a safe space in school and trusted adults in those spaces to listen to and support them, and when necessary intervene on their behalf. That's just as important when school is 'virtual' and particularly so when many interactions -- Covid-19 or not - happen on social media - a means of communicating that is both ubiquitous and fraught.

That's what should be happening. Clearly, for too many of our students, that's not what IS happening. So - how do we work together to fix these issues? How do we empower students (or anyone) to safely report what they see, hear, experience? How do we create systems that ensure students see that action is being taken when they speak? How do we ensure there's a clear map of accountability - so anyone who speaks and is ignored sees a next step instead of feeling powerless?

I don't have all the answers. I know really good, smart people who are working on these issues every day. I also know that all of our work to create a culture of respect and an empowered system of zero tolerance for any form of abuse or harassment MUST include students.

In the weeks to come I'll be listening to and working with students to drill down on these issues, and learn from them action steps our school system can take NOW to create a culture of respect in every school. That's a start.

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