Steamboat High School staff working to better inform students how to report instances of sexual harassment

District will establish a method for students to make a report online.

Staff at Steamboat Springs High School are highlighting the various options to report sexual harassment and sexual assault available for students after a handful of students protested last week, saying the district had not done enough to address the issue.

Principal Rick Elertson told members of the Steamboat Springs Board of Education on Monday night that he and other staff met with two students involved with the protest the morning after he learned it would be taking place.

“One of them said, ‘You’re asking us to come to a male in the building and relive an experience with you, where there could be a better way, where we would only have to tell a story one time,’” Elertson recalled after asking the student about making a report.

“Sometimes, it’s unreasonable to ask somebody to make a proper report to someone they don’t know well or at all,” he added. “Having options is important for the students, and then they can choose the path that best suits what they want to see accomplished.”

The Steamboat Springs School District already had options for a student to report sexual harassment or sexual assault, but Anne-Marie Williams, the district’s director of exceptional student services and Title IX coordinator, said the district is looking to better inform students about the various ways they can make a report and add another way for them to seek help online.

“We have some room to grow in how to educate our students on where to report,” Williams said.

Students can make a report to any school district employee, as they are all mandatory reporters, Williams said. They can also visit Williams at the district office if students are uncomfortable having a meeting at the high school.

Williams said students can always go to law enforcement or seek out other resources through Advocates of Routt County or UCHealth Yampa Valley Medical Center. The district also utilizes Safe2Tell, an anonymous way to send a report to school officials and law enforcement, Williams said.

Depending on the nature of the accusation, when there is a report made, Elertson said they meet with all sides and create plans so each student feels safe at school, while law enforcement conducts an investigation. After the investigation, Elertson said safety plans are adjusted accordingly to what was found.

“We start with how does the person who is making this report feel; what level does this need to go to?” Elertson said.

To better communicate reporting options to students, Williams said they would create a video walking students through how to submit a report of sexual harassment or sexual assault. Staff is also creating a web page that organizes information for students, which would include a Google form that would go directly to Williams.

School leaders believe they also need to better communicate the work that has been done around sexual harassment and sexual assault, such as overhauling the school’s Title IX process in accordance with federal regulations and the district’s Culture and Climate Task Force, which is expanding after 20 months of work.

Elertson said the school is following up on a couple of names the two students provided of fellow students that are “verbally inappropriate at school.” He said what has been alleged is “not in terms of any violent attack.”

The day after he met with the students, Elertson said he and other district staff and school board members participated in a parent information meeting, where he said the conversation centered around the use of the term “rape culture,” which one of the students who organized the protest used to refer to the high school in a Steamboat Pilot & Today story last week.

Elertson said Graham Hackett, social change program manager for Advocates of Routt County, talked with parents about the meaning of the term that alarmed many of them.

“(Hackett) interjected and said, rape culture is not meant to implant into people’s brains — to use his words — that kids are running around penetrating each other at the school. That’s not what this means,” Elertson said. “That’s when the parents spoke up and said well then what does it mean because that is what it means to me.”

Elertson reported that Hackett said sometimes, the term is used to refer to acts like sexual harassment or inappropriate touching to “bring a sense of urgency to a situation.”

“I think providing every opportunity and mechanism that we have in our community for students to report things that are happening to them is the most important thing that we can do going forward,” Elertson said.

After sending out emails to parents at the end of last week, Elertson said he has had a few angry responses from parents wanting him to state unequivocally there is no such culture at the high school.

“Quite frankly, that’s not my purpose,” he said. “My purpose is to make sure that everybody, including the students who made this report, are safe and to use language that acknowledges how they are feeling.”

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