District Takes First Step Toward Tough New Anti-Harassment Policy

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The People’s Vanguard of Davis first reported on this incident on November 10 involving the harassment of a Harper Junior High School student based on his perceived sexual orientation. Since then, there has been a second student at that school who has come forward with complaints about harassment and the district handling of that policy. Now over two months later, the district is taking very strong steps toward remedying that situation.

Last night, the Davis Joint Unified School Board approved language for a strong new anti-harassment policy. One of the chief complaints made by the Fischers was the discrepancy in the punishment for racially based harassment versus harassment based on sexual orientation or the perception of sexual orientation. The direction taken last night by the school board goes a long way toward remedying that situation.

All of this will need to be heard again, perhaps as soon as next week for final approval, but the first steps taken last night were very important. The direction set by the board was crystal clear–the administration knows exactly what the board wants on this matter. All civil rights type harassment were subsumed into a single category in the district’s punishment matrix. That includes sexual orientation and also gender identity. There is still a sliding in terms of punishments depending on the number and severity of the offenses, but the language in the code was shifted from “may be disciplined” to “shall be disciplined.” This eliminates any ambiguity. Students know that if they engage in harassment using epithets that are racial or based on sexual orientation there will be immediate and severe penalties, including suspension. Suspension is the penalty with the teeth.

But Board President Jim Provenza went even further. First, he proposed language changes that directed staff to be responsible to monitor and report such incidents. There is some question as to whether this constitutes new duties that would have to be handled under the collective bargaining agreement. However, the direction from the school board on this issue was very clear and now it is up to the Administration and their legal team to write up a policy that will fit.

The most impressive part is that there came a point when Superintendent David Murphy seemed to be hedging in terms of the clarity of language and both Provenza and Keltie Jones pushed him very hard to ensure that any ambiguity was taken out. Murphy suggested that the Principals already knew these rules, but Provenza and Jones really forced him to make the language strong and unambiguous so that there could be no mistake what the board’s policy and direction were.

Moreover, the board was giving direction to give very strong advertising of the message that this behavior is unacceptable. It will be written into the student handbook and to some extent into the employee handbook as well, however, again that issue is a bit more tricky due to collective bargaining agreements.

One of the things that upset the Fischer’s was the ambiguity of the current policy and the discrepancy between the punishments for smoking pot, calling someone a racial epithet, and calling someone an anti-gay epithet. They saw that there was very serious harassment that seemed to be punished very lightly.

I have been very critical of the school district’s handling of this matter, but what I saw last night was very positive and very impressive. All five members of the board of trustees were in strong support of these changes. Mr. Provenza and Ms. Jones were very strong and forceful advocates for this policy and it was impressive to watch them press this issue home.

This was a much needed policy change. It puts harassment based on sexual orientation, perceived sexual orientation, and gender identity into a class of civil rights offenses. It differentiates the use of these words as epithets versus merely saying the words. And it gives district personnel strong guidance as to how to handle such future incidents.

It is unfortunate that it took an incident such as this to call the board’s attention to the holes in their policy. That is the nature of government it appears, changes only occur when there are problems that arise. It is unfortunate that Mr. Fischer and his son had to suffer for these lack of policies. However, last night was definitely a good night for them. The school board came through with some very important measures and I believe, only as the result of the actions taken by Mr. Fischer and the attention that he drew to this issue did these changes occur.

—Doug Paul Davis reporting

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About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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32 thoughts on “District Takes First Step Toward Tough New Anti-Harassment Policy”

  1. davisite

    People’s Vanguard of Davis, in no small part, was instrumental in bringing about these policy changes… another item on the growing list of this blog’s contributions to our community.

  2. davisite

    People’s Vanguard of Davis, in no small part, was instrumental in bringing about these policy changes… another item on the growing list of this blog’s contributions to our community.

  3. davisite

    People’s Vanguard of Davis, in no small part, was instrumental in bringing about these policy changes… another item on the growing list of this blog’s contributions to our community.

  4. davisite

    People’s Vanguard of Davis, in no small part, was instrumental in bringing about these policy changes… another item on the growing list of this blog’s contributions to our community.

  5. david

    I think the lawsuit brought by the family, and now a second lawsuit from the same lawyer, did a lot more to bring the changes from the school board. As they say in poker, money talks, bullsh*t walks.

  6. david

    I think the lawsuit brought by the family, and now a second lawsuit from the same lawyer, did a lot more to bring the changes from the school board. As they say in poker, money talks, bullsh*t walks.

  7. david

    I think the lawsuit brought by the family, and now a second lawsuit from the same lawyer, did a lot more to bring the changes from the school board. As they say in poker, money talks, bullsh*t walks.

  8. david

    I think the lawsuit brought by the family, and now a second lawsuit from the same lawyer, did a lot more to bring the changes from the school board. As they say in poker, money talks, bullsh*t walks.

  9. Doug Paul Davis

    There is no doubt in my mind that without this issue coming forth the board would not make these changes.

    However, I would say that having spoken at length with Jim Provenza, the board president, that he had a very genuine concern for this issue and to make the punishment for this form of harassment equivalent to other forms of harassment and other offenses. I do not think that was motivated by fear of the lawsuit.

    And I’ll point out that Provenza and Keltie Jones played a large role last night in pushing the district itself and the board as a whole a lot harder and further than they would have gone without that push. Both Provenza and Jones deserve credit for stepping forward at this point.

  10. Doug Paul Davis

    There is no doubt in my mind that without this issue coming forth the board would not make these changes.

    However, I would say that having spoken at length with Jim Provenza, the board president, that he had a very genuine concern for this issue and to make the punishment for this form of harassment equivalent to other forms of harassment and other offenses. I do not think that was motivated by fear of the lawsuit.

    And I’ll point out that Provenza and Keltie Jones played a large role last night in pushing the district itself and the board as a whole a lot harder and further than they would have gone without that push. Both Provenza and Jones deserve credit for stepping forward at this point.

  11. Doug Paul Davis

    There is no doubt in my mind that without this issue coming forth the board would not make these changes.

    However, I would say that having spoken at length with Jim Provenza, the board president, that he had a very genuine concern for this issue and to make the punishment for this form of harassment equivalent to other forms of harassment and other offenses. I do not think that was motivated by fear of the lawsuit.

    And I’ll point out that Provenza and Keltie Jones played a large role last night in pushing the district itself and the board as a whole a lot harder and further than they would have gone without that push. Both Provenza and Jones deserve credit for stepping forward at this point.

  12. Doug Paul Davis

    There is no doubt in my mind that without this issue coming forth the board would not make these changes.

    However, I would say that having spoken at length with Jim Provenza, the board president, that he had a very genuine concern for this issue and to make the punishment for this form of harassment equivalent to other forms of harassment and other offenses. I do not think that was motivated by fear of the lawsuit.

    And I’ll point out that Provenza and Keltie Jones played a large role last night in pushing the district itself and the board as a whole a lot harder and further than they would have gone without that push. Both Provenza and Jones deserve credit for stepping forward at this point.

  13. Anonymous

    I agree the work of the People’s Vanguard of Davis was very helpful in getting the word out to the community about the importance of having a strong school policy against bigotry, harrassment and violence against gay people or those perceived as gay. Having a strong policy which will be enforced with certainty and requiring both faculty and staff to do so is vital to ending this harrassment. The school board is getting this right and we will watch to see if the policy brought back by Supt. Murphy measures up to the direction given to him by the school board.

    The Fischer’s and the other family involved as well as the Vanguard, and all the parents and citizens pushing for this type of harrassment to be taken seriously and corrected resulting in a new policy deserve a great deal of thanks.

  14. Anonymous

    I agree the work of the People’s Vanguard of Davis was very helpful in getting the word out to the community about the importance of having a strong school policy against bigotry, harrassment and violence against gay people or those perceived as gay. Having a strong policy which will be enforced with certainty and requiring both faculty and staff to do so is vital to ending this harrassment. The school board is getting this right and we will watch to see if the policy brought back by Supt. Murphy measures up to the direction given to him by the school board.

    The Fischer’s and the other family involved as well as the Vanguard, and all the parents and citizens pushing for this type of harrassment to be taken seriously and corrected resulting in a new policy deserve a great deal of thanks.

  15. Anonymous

    I agree the work of the People’s Vanguard of Davis was very helpful in getting the word out to the community about the importance of having a strong school policy against bigotry, harrassment and violence against gay people or those perceived as gay. Having a strong policy which will be enforced with certainty and requiring both faculty and staff to do so is vital to ending this harrassment. The school board is getting this right and we will watch to see if the policy brought back by Supt. Murphy measures up to the direction given to him by the school board.

    The Fischer’s and the other family involved as well as the Vanguard, and all the parents and citizens pushing for this type of harrassment to be taken seriously and corrected resulting in a new policy deserve a great deal of thanks.

  16. Anonymous

    I agree the work of the People’s Vanguard of Davis was very helpful in getting the word out to the community about the importance of having a strong school policy against bigotry, harrassment and violence against gay people or those perceived as gay. Having a strong policy which will be enforced with certainty and requiring both faculty and staff to do so is vital to ending this harrassment. The school board is getting this right and we will watch to see if the policy brought back by Supt. Murphy measures up to the direction given to him by the school board.

    The Fischer’s and the other family involved as well as the Vanguard, and all the parents and citizens pushing for this type of harrassment to be taken seriously and corrected resulting in a new policy deserve a great deal of thanks.

  17. Anonymous

    There has been alot of talk about this situation, and I agree that it is a serious issue and needs to be addressed, but have any of you discussed this issue with students that actually went to school with and interacted with Zak on a daily basis and are NOT involved with the anti-gay incident?

    They seem to have more histroy on the issue than most.

    He is NOT as innocent as all the stories and his fathers protray. I wish him well and hope that this issue does not over shadow the other social issues that he needs to address.

    Concerned Harper Parent

  18. Anonymous

    There has been alot of talk about this situation, and I agree that it is a serious issue and needs to be addressed, but have any of you discussed this issue with students that actually went to school with and interacted with Zak on a daily basis and are NOT involved with the anti-gay incident?

    They seem to have more histroy on the issue than most.

    He is NOT as innocent as all the stories and his fathers protray. I wish him well and hope that this issue does not over shadow the other social issues that he needs to address.

    Concerned Harper Parent

  19. Anonymous

    There has been alot of talk about this situation, and I agree that it is a serious issue and needs to be addressed, but have any of you discussed this issue with students that actually went to school with and interacted with Zak on a daily basis and are NOT involved with the anti-gay incident?

    They seem to have more histroy on the issue than most.

    He is NOT as innocent as all the stories and his fathers protray. I wish him well and hope that this issue does not over shadow the other social issues that he needs to address.

    Concerned Harper Parent

  20. Anonymous

    There has been alot of talk about this situation, and I agree that it is a serious issue and needs to be addressed, but have any of you discussed this issue with students that actually went to school with and interacted with Zak on a daily basis and are NOT involved with the anti-gay incident?

    They seem to have more histroy on the issue than most.

    He is NOT as innocent as all the stories and his fathers protray. I wish him well and hope that this issue does not over shadow the other social issues that he needs to address.

    Concerned Harper Parent

  21. Doug Paul Davis

    I’m sure he’s not innocent and I’m sure like anything it’s a two-way-street. But those things can get sorted out if the policy is correct. No matter what he did, some of those statements, if accurate, are completely inappropriate and need shift and immediate discipline.

  22. Doug Paul Davis

    I’m sure he’s not innocent and I’m sure like anything it’s a two-way-street. But those things can get sorted out if the policy is correct. No matter what he did, some of those statements, if accurate, are completely inappropriate and need shift and immediate discipline.

  23. Doug Paul Davis

    I’m sure he’s not innocent and I’m sure like anything it’s a two-way-street. But those things can get sorted out if the policy is correct. No matter what he did, some of those statements, if accurate, are completely inappropriate and need shift and immediate discipline.

  24. Doug Paul Davis

    I’m sure he’s not innocent and I’m sure like anything it’s a two-way-street. But those things can get sorted out if the policy is correct. No matter what he did, some of those statements, if accurate, are completely inappropriate and need shift and immediate discipline.

  25. Anonymous

    I was just reading the Harper Herald(news paper for Harper Jr. High), the school has named one of the harassers “Student Of the Month” for December which the student was suspended several days in. I don’t know what is going on, but it sounds fishy to me????

  26. Anonymous

    I was just reading the Harper Herald(news paper for Harper Jr. High), the school has named one of the harassers “Student Of the Month” for December which the student was suspended several days in. I don’t know what is going on, but it sounds fishy to me????

  27. Anonymous

    I was just reading the Harper Herald(news paper for Harper Jr. High), the school has named one of the harassers “Student Of the Month” for December which the student was suspended several days in. I don’t know what is going on, but it sounds fishy to me????

  28. Anonymous

    I was just reading the Harper Herald(news paper for Harper Jr. High), the school has named one of the harassers “Student Of the Month” for December which the student was suspended several days in. I don’t know what is going on, but it sounds fishy to me????

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