LO School District updates policy on reporting sexual conduct
The Lake Oswego School Board voted recently to make some changes to the district's reporting requirements regarding sexual conduct with students, spurred by a recommendation from the Oregon School Board Association.
Donna Atherton, the district's director of human resources, presented the first draft of the changes to the school board Feb. 11, which were then approved by the board Feb. 25.
"The main change here is that they added contractors, or agents of the district, who will now be required to report any suspicions that they have around sexual contact with students," said Atherton. "The idea is that if you have any suspicions whatsoever, you have to report."
"Sexual conduct" as defined by Oregon law is any verbal or physical conduct by a school employee that is sexual in nature, directed toward a kindergarten through grade 12 student (which includes 18-21 year old students enrolled in the LOSD's Community Transitions program). According to state law, this conduct unreasonably interferes with a student's educational performance and creates an intimidating, hostile or offensive educational environment.
Previously, the district's policy only required district employees to report sexual conduct. Now, any contractors or agents hired by the district must do so as well. An agent is defined in the policy as a person authorized to act on behalf of another (called the principal) to create legal relations with a third party.
The changes to the policy also establish a path for dealing with contractors suspected or accused of sexual conduct. "When the district receives a report of suspected sexual conduct by a contractor or agent of the district, the district may decide to suspend services of that contractor or place the agent in a position that does not involve direct, unsupervised contact with students while conducting an investigation," it reads.
This is similar to the path in place for dealing with district employees, which reads, "When the district receives a report of suspected sexual conduct by a district employee, the district may decide to place the employee on paid administrative leave or in a position that does not involve direct, unsupervised contact with students while conducting an investigation."
School board member Rob Wagner asked Atherton to explain the language, specifically that the district "may" decide to place an employee on paid administrative leave.
"There is a high likelihood of always (placing the employee on paid administrative leave)," Atherton said. "But you can sometimes get wild accusations that can't possibly be correct, so that's why you have the 'may' in there."
The policy does clarify, however, that "if a student initiates a report of suspected sexual conduct by a district employee, a contractor or an agent of the district in good faith, the student will not be disciplined by the board or any district employee."
Atherton added, "As a standard practice, if there is any kind of report that involves sexual conduct, then HR puts on the red alert."
Wagner, who also serves as a state senator and chairs the Senate Board of Education, told the school board that he and other legislators are having similar conversations in Salem. "What we're trying to do is provide support and guidance to districts so that it will be easier, that districts have the flexibility to make sure that everyone that you have employed, that's got access to kids, is getting background (checked), and making sure that there's really crisp lines around reporting, and what happens after reporting," he said. "Right now, in certain districts, there's been a lot of confusion, so I appreciate the work that you are doing."
Superintendent Michael Musick also shared that the district is taking steps to implement some kind of districtwide background check procedure on volunteers and parents who work in the schools. Musick said they are currently looking for a company to work with on this, and hope to have the process implemented by the start of the 2019-20 school year.
"They will be doing a quick background check, but extensive, on all of the people that enter our building," Musick told the school board. "We can start implementing that soon — hopefully this summer."
Additionally, all 10 of the schools within the Lake Oswego School District are enrolled in the SafeOregon tip line, which allows students, parents or community members to anonymously report concerns about safety or individuals who may need help.