Sexual Harassment in Schools

Justice Anthony M. Kennedy angrily denounced the Supreme Court's ruling that school districts can be held liable for damages under Federal law for failing to stop sexual harassment among peers in the classroom. Writing for the dissenting minority, Justice Kennedy called the decision an unwarranted intrusion into "day-to-day classroom logistics," and a judicial overreaction to "the routine problems of adolescence."

Perhaps Justice Kennedy needs to step down off the high bench and visit a middle or high school. If he took the time, he would discover that today's schools are meaner and rougher than anything he remembers from his own adolescence. There is nothing "routine" about the taunting that occurs among peers today. Teasing no longer means pulling pigtails or even snapping a bra strap. What goes on in school hallways today is groping, inappropriate touching, physical abuse towards gays and verbal abuse that would be rated R if used in a movie.

Justice Kennedy states: "A teenager's romantic overtures to a classmate (even when persistent and unwelcome) are an inescapable part of adolescence." Wrong! No one, whether in a school or in the workplace, should have to put up with "persistent and unwelcome" advances that humiliate the recipient. His concern that "scarce resources will be diverted from educating our children," misses the point. Many children never have the chance to learn because sexual harassment so pollutes the school environment.

In a survey by the American Association of University Women, of 1,600 public school students in grades eight through 11, four out of five students reported being sexually harassed. While 85 percent of the girls reported being harassed, a surprising 76 percent of boys also said they had been victims. 25 percent of the women reacted by no longer wanting to go to school or speak up in class, and 16 percent reported that their grades dropped.

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