Amherst-Pelham Regional High School (ARHS) has written a controversial new rule into their handbook this year, dealing with the sexual harassment of students by faculty and other students.
This new rule, introduced by a committee of students, faculty, and parents, attracted nationwide attention after being picked up by the Associated Press. The introduction of the policy at ARHS, according to Principal Ilene Levitt, was not motivated because of a specific incident. Rather, it was made to clarify appropriate behavior for students and faculty alike.
The policy defines sexual harassment as "staring or leering with sexual overtones, spreading sexual gossip, unwanted sexual comments, pressure for sexual activity, and unwanted physical contact of a sexual nature." Students who feel they have been so harmed are encouraged to seek help from a trusted school administrator.
ARHS's policy has varying degrees of punishment for offenders. They include detention, suspension, possible expulsion, and referral to police.
The students at ARHS have not reacted to the new handbook rule with as much vigor as the media.
Principal Levitt says that there are usually three to four cases of sexual harassment per year. Last year, one involved a gay boy who received threatening notes in his locker.
Students have been left on their own to discover what the rule means and why it was put into effect. Some students think that the need for a rule arose when a teacher supposedly made a pass at a student last year and was consequently fired. Levitt agreed that an educational program concerning the issue needs to be implemented.
The nation's media has definitely found Amherst High's sexual harassment rule to be a hot new item. Not only have large publications picked up on it, but National Public Radio, "Good Morning America," "Donahue," and "A Current Affair" have all contacted Principal Levitt on her school's innovative approach to sexual harassment. Some agents of the press have criticized the rule for being a "violation of First Amendment rights," such as free speech.
Reportedly, only five high schools in the country have a rule similar to Amherst's. Principal Levitt hopes that other schools in the country will put such rules into their school handbooks, since it is already in practice everywhere, but not always put into words. n
This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.