Facebook Live Panel Focuses on #MeToo at School


Some male elementary students in the Oakland Unified School District used to have a tradition they called “Slap Ass Fridays.”  It was so pervasive, according to a 4th-grade girl at one Oakland school, that she and all her friends would stand with their backs against a wall every recess and lunch period in order to avoid being slapped.

“Sexual harassment and assault starts really early,” said Emma Myerson of the Alliance for Girls, in an NEA-sponsored Facebook Live discussion last week. “I think sometimes we don’t want to talk about it because it’s scary to think that in 3rd grade and 4th grade girls are experiencing real assault from their peers.”

“Sexual harassment and assault starts really early. I think sometimes we don’t want to talk about it because it’s scary to think that in 3rd grade and 4th grade girls are experiencing real assault from their peers.”

Emma Myerson
Alliance for Girls

The past year has seen real public dialogue about sexual harassment in the workplace, as well as some growing accountability for perpetrators. This has been driven largely by survivors of harassment and assault who have bravely gone public with their stories via the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements.  Many feel a long-overdue and profound cultural shift is finally under way.

But what about #MeToo at school?  How can school administrators, educators, students and parents contribute to these discussions and address these issues at school?

In the Facebook Live event last week, Myerson was joined by NEA Press Officer Michelle Hudgins and Elizabeth Tang of the National Women’s Law Center for a lively discussion of these questions.


Discriminatory or Excessive Discipline for Girls of Color?

When it comes to reporting harassment or assault, the panelists discussed how girls of color often face even more difficult challenges than white girls.

“In the research we’ve looked at, there hasn’t necessarily been a significant discrepancy in the prevalence of sexual harassment between girls of color and white girls,” said Tang of the National Women’s Law Center. “But what we have seen is that when girls of color, particularly black and Latina girls, report that they’ve been sexually assaulted, schools aren’t responding to them in the same way. They’re disproportionately being ignored, disbelieved, and even punished.”

Tang attributed this in part to negative stereotypes about black girls being louder or more angry. “If a young woman is having her bra snapped in class and a boy keeps doing it and she slaps him back,” said Tang, “she could be suspended because suddenly now she’s the aggressor in the situation. Because now she’s the angry black girl.”

“When girls of color, particularly black and Latina girls, report that they’ve been sexually assaulted, schools aren’t responding to them in the same way. They’re disproportionately being ignored, disbelieved, and even punished.”

Elizabeth Tang
National Women’s Law Center

Myerson said Alliance for Girls worked closely with students, administrators, parents and community organizations in Oakland to implement a stronger, revamped sexual harassment policy.  Under the new policy, a designated point person in each school will handle sexual harassment and assault complaints. In addition, the reporting process for students, educators and parents has been clearly delineated.

In research Alliance for Girls did in Oakland and other California communities, Myerson said almost all of the girls they spoke with, of all ethnicities, relayed experiences of sexual harassment and/or assault. What was much more common among black girls, however, was that so many also said they didn’t feel respected by their teachers.

Myerson read one quote from a female Oakland student: “African-Americans are thought of as being loud. But that’s because no one wants to hear us. We have to speak up to be heard.”

The panelists also discussed the Catch-22 of school “push-out” — where students who have experienced harassment or assault are chronically absent because they don’t feel safe at school, or face discriminatory and excessive discipline or suspensions. Which results in them being absent even more, falling further behind in class.

“If you want girls to stay in school, you need to give them the supports they need to stay in school,” said Tang. “That can mean extra time on tests, that can be homework extensions. It means not disciplining them for skipping school because they don’t feel safe at school. Because then they miss even more school and that makes no sense.”


Title IX: Sexual Harassment in Schools is a Civil Rights Violation

The panelists also discussed Title IX — a federal civil rights law that includes protections against sexual discrimination — as well as recent efforts by the Trump administration to weaken and undermine Title IX protections.

“Sexual harassment is a form of sex discrimination,” said Tang. “Sexual harassment and sexual violence is a type of civil rights violation when it occurs in schools.”

Myerson said Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is “trying really hard” to roll back civil rights for all students, including sexual assault survivors. Protections established in 2011 and 2014 were “really, really wonderful for survivors” she added, and created more equitable proceedings related to sexual harassment and violence.

“Rollback of these critical protections for survivors is discriminatory on the basis of sex, and it is arbitrary and capricious,” said Myerson. “But those are a floor, not a ceiling. States can still go above and beyond what’s happening now at the federal landscape, and they can restore those protections at the state and local level.”


Moving Toward Remedies and Solutions

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life. It is really, really true.”

Emma Myerson
Alliance for Girls

All of the panelists underscored the importance of adults who can build healthy and  trusting relationships with girls.  In the same way that one teacher or administrator who doesn’t listen to a student or dismisses her concerns can have a profound negative impact on a student, one adult who truly listens can be hugely important.

“A single caring adult can make all the difference in a girl’s life,” said Myerson. “It is really, really true. We heard over and over again when that one adult is saying ‘Hi,’ and knows their name, and asks how they’re doing, that really matters.”

Alliance for Girls created a toolkit for educators, called “Meeting the Needs of Girls,” that outlines steps and suggestions for creating healthy relationships with girls, including ensuring they have someone to go to, who they feel comfortable with in their schools. Panelists also discussed the need for local school policies that grow out of a process that includes all key stakeholders — including students, educators, administrators, schools boards, parents and community organizations.

“How can we work together?” asks Myerson, “How can we repair the harm that we’ve interpersonally felt because of this issue and show each other that we are going to hold each other accountable, through the development of a policy, through the development of a practice, that we’ll then implement district-wide?”


Take Action! Find resources and information below to help your school empower girls, end sexual harassment and assault, and protect students’ civil rights

Protecting Our Students’ Civil Rights
NEA EdJustice

#MeToo – What’s Next?
National Women’s Law Center

#MeTooK12 Campaign
Stop Sexual Assault in Schools

#MeTooK12 Resources
Stop Sexual Assault in Schools

Let Her Learn: A Toolkit to Stop School Push Out for Girls of Color
National Women’s Law Center

Learn how to write a comment to the Department of Education about their upcoming Title IX regulations

Meeting the Needs of Girls: Girls of color share how to improve equity in Oakland schools
Alliance for Girls

Oakland girls shine spotlight on sexual harassment and school board revamps its policy
NEA EdJustice

DRESS CODED: Black Girls, Bodies, and Bias in D.C. Schools
National Women’s Law Center

Legal Network for Gender Equity/Times Up Legal Defense Fund
National Women’s Law Center


Reader Comments

  1. I agree that it is imperitive that we address these issues within the school community. In light of the apparent motive for the most recent school shooting, we must become accutely aware of our students and their relationships. Not only must we find ways to empower girls by offering open and frank discussions and safe harbors, we must be addressing the needs and misconceptions of boys as well. The prevalence of demeaning and quite often shockingly violent porn on the internet is creating a dangerous mindset for boys who are learning about sexual conduct almost exclusively from these videos and/or feeling the pressure to act in like manner. Some boys (and their older brothers, cousins, uncles and fathers) are going online with groups who refer to themselves as incel–involuntarily celibate, who promote retaliatory actions toward women who have spurned their advances. I believe that, certainly by high school, there should be sessions with both boys and girls present to explore together the issues of loving relationships–what they look and feel like and what they are not–boundaries and agency, as well as sexuality, rights and legalities, how to avoid situations that can result in rape or being accused of rape. Parents should be made aware of the extremely violent porn and the rise of the incel entitlement culture and of a tendancy among certain young men to view relationships as dominance and ownership. We are a conflicted society that can’t even advertise toothpaste without pushing sexiness but are not comfortable with our real natural sexualiy.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *