High school task force moves forward with Title IX training, improving culture and climate
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Every week, a task force comprised of about dozen people meets with the mission “to create a climate and culture in our schools of respect, trust, safety and dignity for all and help foster the same in our community.”
The group includes teachers, administrators, counselors, parents, students and community members, and was formed to address issues and carry forward recommendations in the report from Jane Quimby, of Quimby and Associates. Quimby, a former FBI agent, was hired by the Steamboat Springs School District in February to investigate the culture at the school related to the alleged mishandling of claims of sexual harassment made by students and parents to the administration.
Quimby’s investigation began after parents and community members brought concerns before the school board in December 2019 regarding a culture in which they said young women who had experienced instances of sexual harassment and assault were not being heard and appropriate action not taken by the district.
Quimby’s in-depth report found sexual misconduct did occur at the high school, but she said the behavior was not rampant or horrible and staff were “doing their best, given the circumstances.”
It isn’t an easy conversation, acknowledged Shelby DeWolfe, a counselor at Soda Creek Elementary School who spent part of her career at Steamboat Springs High School.
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DeWolfe was one of the first members recruited for the all-volunteer Culture and Climate Task Force.
“This is important work,” DeWolfe said. “And it’s going to bring up some emotions. And there will be differing opinions. While we have to have difficult discussions among the task force members — it’s been great. Everyone is so invested and committed.”
It’s those diverse opinions, DeWolfe said, that she appreciates most about the group.
DeWolfe said she signed up because she has “always been passionate about empowering student voices and working together.” And, with two kids of her own in the district, “I want it to be the safest and most trusting environment we can make it.”
DeWolfe acknowledges a top priority is focusing on the relationships that need healing and rebuilding between students, staff, parents and the community.
At several Board of Education meetings during the winter and spring, teachers described feeling their reputations and that of the high school had been dragged through the mud. There were different viewpoints expressed on whether the district had responded appropriately to allegations — and how big of an issue an misconduct at the high school actually was.
“Relationships were challenged and stretched and broken,” DeWolfe said. “This is important work, and we do all need to come together.”
The investigation resulted in the nonrenewal of former high school principal Kevin Taulman’s contract — a move which also drew vocal opposition from a group of teachers.
As DeWolfe and her fellow task force members spent their initial meetings developing a mission statement and short and long term goals, the first was to promote healing and strong relationships between students, staff, administration and parents.
The group is still developing goals, DeWolfe noted, and are dividing into subcommittees to focus on each goal.
A big piece of Quimby’s report focused on Title IX policies and how they apply to issues around sexual misconduct allegations in schools.
Five of the 28 cases of reported sexual misconduct at the high school were categorized as full-fledged Title IX by Quimby.
Title IX is the portion of the federal Education Amendments Act of 1972 that states, “No person in the United States shall, on the basis of sex, be excluded from participation in, be denied the benefits of or be subjected to discrimination under any education program or activity receiving federal financial assistance.”
According to an April 2011 letter issued by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, “The sexual harassment of students, including sexual violence, interferes with students’ right to receive an education free from discrimination and, in the case of sexual violence, is a crime.” The law protects both victims and accusers.
One of Quimby’s first recommendations was the need for more Title IX training for every district employee and additional training for those “on the front line.” In reviewing the cases, she cited a “lack of consistency and a lack of clarity in terms of what the policies and procedures are.”
Anne–Marie Williams, director of exceptional student services, has been selected as the designated Title IX coordinator for the district, said Steamboat Springs School District Superintendent Brad Meeks. Each school will also designate a Title IX coordinator, he described. When a complaint is brought forward, the deputy coordinator with contact Williams to discuss the next steps. Williams will not be the one to conduct the investigation, Meeks said, but rather “will ensure policies are followed and the investigation is done in a timely manner.”
More than 30 Steamboat counselors and administrators participated recently in an intensive two-day Title IX training.
DeWolfe described the training as overwhelming and eye-opening. She noted that some Title IX regulations have changed significantly just in the past year, and it will be important to help educate students, staff and parents on the current policies.
Meeks, who also participated in the training, said the district’s “legal counsel is continuing to update our policies to reflect the changes in the new federal regulations.” One of his initial takeaways from this first training, Meeks said “is that the overall changes will provide a more prescriptive process to investigate Title IX complaints. The trainers indicated that this level of training is just starting to occur in K-12 systems across the country.”
DeWolfe noted that Title IX and the related policy changes — along with culture and climate changes — go hand in hand.
“The two day training was a solid start,” Meeks said. “However, more training and ongoing annual training will need to continue.”
Thus far, the second goal for the task force is to provide recommendations and support to the district for establishing a reporting system that is clear to students, parents and stakeholders in an effort to increase understanding and trust.
The third goal set thus far by the task force is to establish educational and programming opportunities to help meet their mission and support the Steamboat Springs School District in creating a culture of dignity and respect.
And, DeWolfe noted, as stated in the mission statement — the idea is to “change culture not only in our schools but in our community — this is a bigger societal issue.”
DeWolfe said she is in the process of reaching out to Quimby to get a sense whether they are on the right track or not.
From the Title IX training, DeWolfe said one very encouraging thing was the restorative justice coordinator already in place in the district. DeWolfe said the trainers told them that put Steamboat ahead of the game, in that “Restorative practices can help with Title IX repair and response.”
The task force is taking a very long-term approach, DeWolfe emphasized. “It needs to stay and be in place for many, many years to come. … When we started meeting, we realized the need for immediate short-term goals. But we are all really invested in the long term. This is not something just for this year.”
To reach Kari Dequine Harden, call 970-871-4205, email kharden@SteamboatPilot.com or follow her on Twitter @kariharden.
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