A series of new legislation was introduced Tuesday by Gov. Tom Wolf to help protect secondary and postsecondary students from sex crimes by broadening the scope of several mandates.
While Bellefonte Area Superintendent Michelle Saylor said she’s in favor of the enhanced regulations, she would also like schools to be recognized for their current efforts.
“Although we agree wholeheartedly with the statement that ‘we cannot allow sexual assault in Pennsylvania to continue, and we will no longer tolerate its existence in our educational institutions,’ it is my hope that the legislators consider the positive and proactive efforts many educational institutions are already implementing prior to handing down mandates that may hamper their progress,” Saylor said in an email.
Like many districts that serve Centre County, Bellefonte Area has policies and procedures in place to help combat sexual harassment and violence.
“We have policies related to victims of violent crimes, which include sexual violence, unlawful harassment, bullying and cyberbullying, as well as corresponding proactive procedures and protocols inclusive of our schoolwide positive behavior and safety supports,” Saylor said.
At the high school, there are also plans in place to incorporate a session on sexual harassment and violence for all seniors prior to graduation.
According to a report from the governor’s press secretary J.J. Abbott, the six new pieces of legislation that will be proposed to the General Assembly are part of Wolf’s “It’s On Us PA” campaign, which was launched last year.
The initiative is the state’s version of the “It’s On Us” national movement to address sexual assaults in schools and on college campuses.
The goals, according to a report from the state, are to improve awareness, prevention, reporting and response systems; reduce barriers that prevent alleged victims from reporting abuse; and find proactive and sustainable ways to improve school environments.
“These steps, along with those we have already taken to combat sexual assault, will strengthen the systems we currently have, and create better standards for reporting and responding to sexual assaults whenever they occur,” Wolf said in a statement. “It is critically important that we continue the progress we’ve already made, and continue our work to ensure that our K-12 and postsecondary institutions have the tools they need to combat sexual assault.”
The legislative proposals include expanding the state Department of Education’s Office for Safe Schools; publishing annual reports on sex crimes in schools; requiring postsecondary institutions to adopt consent standards for responding to allegations of sexual violence; amending state School Code to create a consolidated, comprehensive anti-violence and anti-harassment policy for K-12 schools; establishing amnesty policies protecting students who report sexual assault to postsecondary institutions from being disciplined; and requiring institutions to offer anonymous digital reporting options.
The Wolf administration also secured $1 million in funding in the 2016-17 budget to help support evidence-based sexual assault prevention, reporting and response systems on college campuses.
Six pieces of legislation to be introduced to the General Assembly:
▪ Expand the scope, authority and capacity of the Department of Education’s Office for Safe Schools to support both K-12 and postsecondary institutions, as well as monitor compliance with existing federal and state requirements related to sexual violence prevention and response;
▪ Publish an annual report card on sexual violence and harassment in K-12 and postsecondary institutions using existing data reported to the Department of Education, and/or other publicly reported data;
▪ Amend the School Code to create a consolidated, comprehensive anti-violence and anti-harassment policy for K-12 schools that aligns requirements related to bullying, hazing, sexual assault, sexual harassment, dating violence and other issues;
▪ Require postsecondary institutions to adopt affirmative consent standards for responding to allegations of sexual violence, and expand K-12 health education; standards to explicitly address areas of consent and healthy relationships in middle and high school;
▪ Require that postsecondary institutions offer online, anonymous reporting options for students as part of their required reporting and response systems under federal and state law;
▪ Establish amnesty policies protecting students who report sexual assault to postsecondary institutions from being disciplined for other policy violations, such as drug and alcohol use.
Pennsylvania Department of Education