Education

Students also need to know how to say #MeToo. So school officials are making a plan

School police officers are among those to whom students can go to report inappropriate sexual behavior. In this photo from March 21, 2017, Resource Officer Leon Leonard, Officer Leonardo Carillo and Officer Claudia Beltrand from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, speak to students at Miami Jackson High School on how to respond to police when they get pulled over for a routine traffic stop.
School police officers are among those to whom students can go to report inappropriate sexual behavior. In this photo from March 21, 2017, Resource Officer Leon Leonard, Officer Leonardo Carillo and Officer Claudia Beltrand from Miami-Dade County Public Schools, speak to students at Miami Jackson High School on how to respond to police when they get pulled over for a routine traffic stop. cmguerrero@elnuevoherald.com

In a year where allegations of sexual assault, harassment and rape by powerful men are coming at a rapid-fire pace, Miami-Dade Schools wants to remind its students how to say #MeToo.

Students can report inappropriate sexual behavior to teachers, counselors, schools police officers or principals, all of whom are legally mandated to report suspected abuse. Anyone can call the Miami-Dade County public schools hotline and leave an anonymous message — 305-995-CARE (2273).

“Be the one who drags someone from the dark shadows of abuse into the light,” urged Miami-Dade Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho during Wednesday’s school board meeting.

But one board member worried that students and parents aren’t aware of their options, or even worse, how to recognize the signs of abuse in their peers or their children.

“We have a lot of procedures, but people don’t always know them or follow them because of lack of awareness,” said Martin Karp, vice chair of the school board.

On Wednesday night, the school board agreed with Karp’s plan to create a campaign that spans all grade levels and reminds students how to report a suspected predator, as well as how to identify warning signs of inappropriate adult behavior.

The plan would also create a class in The Parent Academy that trains parents to recognize the symptoms of abuse in their children and talk to their children about when adults cross the line.

Last month, a physical education teacher at Brownsville Middle School was fired and arrested on charges of sexually battering a 14-year-old girl. He’s suspected of sharing nude images of himself with students via a messaging app after starting an innocuous conversation about school.

Karp said parents have approached him with concerns about teachers having untraceable, private conversations with students outside of the approved software for those conversations — Edmodo. His proposal involves reviewing and possibly revising the rules for adult communication with children.

This proposal, which sets a February deadline for a completed plan on how to pull off the campaign and classes, is Karp’s second on the topic. In 2005, he proposed that schools strengthen their anti-sexual abuse curriculum and include warnings about sexual predators on the internet in their classes.

“It’s not something that just started happening. It’s been going on for a long time and we need to prepare our kids,” he said. “If you follow the percentages, you’re talking about tens of thousands of students that will experience some type of inappropriate conduct.”

Need to report inappropriate behavior at a Miami-Dade County public school?

Call 305-995-CARE (2273). Messages can be left anonymously and they can be either a direct report or a suspicion.

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