Last week the School Board released a report detailing their investigation into the Mitch Whitehurst case. I’ve read the entire 322-page document, and there’s a lot to digest. I’m shocked and saddened by how many times principals and other high-level administrators failed to act on reports from female students and employees. As a woman, and an educator, I can’t help noticing that it wasn’t until an adult male was victimized that serious action took place.
I’m left wondering if PPS may finally be having its own #metoo moment.
The report contains recommendations for changes to the PPS personnel process and the PAT contract, and we’ve already agreed to sit down and discuss these with District leaders.
But we shouldn’t divorce what happened in the Whitehurst case from the national conversation about what it means to be a victim of sexual misconduct, harassment, inappropriate boundaries, and other discrimination. We need to evaluate the report’s recommendations in that light, since this is not just a PPS, PAT, or Portland problem. This is our problem as a nation, and it will take all of us working together to combat these challenges.
Let’s start with what we know best: education.
TEACH OUR STUDENTS
I was struck by the way that the report emphasized teaching students to speak up, despite the fact that over and over again, when students did report troubling behavior, building administrators and PPS Human Resource staff dismissed them, failed to act, and failed to report to them to TSPC.
So, while teaching students to speak up is important, we need to recognize the pattern of dismissing the concerns of girls and women and reflect on our own roles in breaking this pattern and holding each other accountable to do the same. This is exactly what the #metoo movement is about, and we all can go even further.
The report recommends “that the District implement additional training in homeroom or health class, or provide other age-appropriate, centralized curriculum that is designed to prevent abuse and sexual conduct” (p 65).
Let’s go further—let’s offer robust courses that help our young men and women understand what a healthy, consensual relationship at any age looks like. Let’s teach all our students how to support each other, especially as they transition to adulthood, in treating each other with the higher standards of respect that the #metoo movement is highlighting as necessary for real change.
TEACH OUR EDUCATORS
We all recognize the long-term cultural shifts that education like this can create, but there are also immediate, pressing needs. For years we’ve been voicing our concerns about the District’s mandatory online trainings, and the report recognizes that for an educator “…. who now has to sit through 10 more minutes of slides displaying text and irrelevant stock photos in a rudimentary PowerPoint presentation….the level of enthusiasm for watching this second segment of the module is low.” (p 157)
The report also recognizes that our training doesn’t address the more nuanced issues we face. For example, “All of the examples involve arrests for illegal behavior and none involve examples of common inappropriate behavior, such as boundary violations. Boundary violations are significant issues worth emphasizing” (p 158).
I hope we can use this as an opportunity elevate the urgency around #metoo for everyone in Portland Public Schools.
This is how we change the systems and cultures that increase the likelihood of sexual violence.