PV Schools

Dear Putnam Valley Staff and Community:

Over the last several weeks, the flood of sexual harassment accusations has been a shock to our system, as so many icons have been undone. For those who lead school organizations, the issue translates into a series of questions: Why? And what can we do?  How can we effectively educate our students about the ethics and legal ramifications of unwanted sexual behavior so that they are never in the situation of losing their self-respect and livelihood because they have abused the trust of colleagues or peers?

All staff members are trained annually in the the essential components of sexual harassment including quid pro quo environments of unequal power, and how to identify and eliminate hostile environments. Sexual harassment training in schools was introduced with Title IX legislation in 1972. School districts have been required to provide training since that time, and have been charged with ensuring that all members of the school community feel respected regardless of gender and sexual orientation. There is a Title IX coordinator in every district and there is a prohibition against retaliation of any kind. Assistant Superintendent, Natalie Doherty, is our Title IX Coordinator.

Students are also informed about issues involving unwelcome sexual advances through formal health classes and discussions with guidance counselors. However, we are now facing the impact of the inappropriate use of cell phones which has increased the seriousness and pervasiveness of sexual harassment in the lives of students.  Cell phones have impeded further time for judgment and consideration of behavior while providing instant and lasting evidence of misdeeds.

Sexual harassment is defined as ”unwelcome sexual conduct that creates an intimidating, hostile, or abusive environment that is so severe or pervasive it prevents a student from fully participating in an educational program or activity.” Harassment includes unwanted verbal or written sexual statements, graffiti, name-calling, and sexual advances in person or via cell phones or the Internet. Office of Civil Rights guidance stresses that there does not need to be intent to harm nor does the activity need to be directed at a specific person to be considered harassment. OCR states that “the more severe the conduct, the less need there is to show a repetitive series of incidents to prove a hostile environment, particularly if the harassment is physical.” Male and female students may be subject to sexual harassment. In addition, harassment based on gender stereotypes is sexual harassment. The same definitions of harassment apply to district staff with more emphasis on the role played by the inequality of power and exchange of favors when adults are involved.

Our children are at risk of ruining their futures if we do not find a way to communicate the jeopardy of behavior that is essentially disrespectful and unlawful.  There is an urgency to protect them from the thoughtlessness that is the natural condition of youth, as the electronic verification makes the risk untenable. Schools are for learning about how to behave toward others appropriately, kindly and with respect.  However, schools exist in a context that presents a challenge to our best intentions. Only with a community and family consensus on what is acceptable can we provide the support for students to do the right thing. We must help our students understand that everyone is entitled to dignity and that if we are clear about our values we will not have to feel ashamed of our behavior toward others.

We will do our part.  Our Title IX Coordinator, and our psychologists will be providing information and training to our entire high school population on the dangers of social media, sexting and sexual harassment as we begin the new year.


Dr. Frances Wills
Superintendent of Schools