Principal's behaviors makes students uncomfortable

Dear Stop It Now!, 

The principal at our Lutheran school makes the 8th grade girls uncomfortable by winking at them, walking into the locker room, and opening the bathroom door. The Pastors and teachers are backing this man 100%, yet the girls are scared. How do we parents and grandparents handle this? The girls feel that their feelings are being totally discounted at school.  They don't know how to articulate what they feel but know something is just not right. Help!
 

Dear Concerned Parent,

I’m so pleased that these girls have spoken up about their discomfort over this principal’s inappropriate behaviors, but am so sorry to see that the school is not responding protectively to these concerns.  While this principal may or may not have abusive intentions, his behaviors are creating an uncomfortable and unsafe environment. 

Creating an unsafe environment

When adults do not respond to children’s discomfort with the adult’s actions and ignore certain boundaries, they give children the message that adults do not have to play by the rules and that it is okay for adults to engage any way they want to with children and teens.  This in turn, creates an environment that isn’t safe and overall, leaves children less protected.  The fact that this is an authority figure, not only to children but for other adults adds another layer to the concern.

Talk to the principal

What does the principal say about this?  Has he directly been told about the concerns; about the discomfort the girls feel around his behaviors?  This could be a very educational and preventive step.

Ideally, the group of concerned parents and grandparents would ask for a meeting with the principal.  Before the meeting, the group would meet to discuss and outline their concerns, as well as identify and describe the changes in his behavior and in the school practices that they are requesting.  Then the meeting would occur, and his response will be very  helpful in identifying necessary next steps.

School Policies

Does your school have child safety policies?  Often when there are policies in place regarding appropriate behaviors between adults and children, and on things like entering locker and bathrooms, then concerned adults can look to these policies to discuss what is and what is not being followed. It can help keep conversations focused not on allegations but rather on following policies. Conversations can then become less personal and more about safety and policies.

Please review our prevention tool on Child sexual abuse prevention for faith communities. This is on faith communities and not schools, but I think it may still be helpful.  Additionally, please review Nine Questions Parents Need to Ask When Selecting a Program for their Child for additional information to inform your thinking and conversations.

Who else can help?

If the principal ignores these concerns or even worse, is not willing to have a conversation, is there anyone else above him that can be informed about these behaviors and concerns?  Is there a governing council? I did locate the Wisconsin Council of Religious and Independent Schools at: http://www.wcris.org/  and am wondering if they might prove to be a resource for you.  In fact, even if the principal does agree to talk with you and agrees to make changes in his behavior; his superiors should still be informed.

Making tough decisions

If the principal and the school decide to ignore the concerns, and continue to allow and engage in these behaviors, then I do think the parents involved need to make some decisions about their comfort level in continuing to send their children to this school.  It’s important that parents feel that their children are being kept safe at school, and that the school can partner with them when safety concerns are raised. I realize that many difficult decisions may have to be made but when children’s safety is in question, sometimes tough decisions are the most preventive step.

I certainly wish you and all the concerned parents and students the very best in dealing with this situation, and I hope that safety considerations and respect for boundaries prevails so that all feel safe and that education can be the focus of the school and not safety concerns. 

I hope this information is helpful, and please do not hesitate to contact us back with further concerns or questions. 

Take care
Stop It Now!
 

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Last edited on: December 18th, 2012