Harassment at School FAQs

Does my school have a policy about racial harassment? 

Yes. Every school district in Vermont, including approved independent schools, is required by state law to have a policy that states how the school will respond to complaints of harassment, including racial harassment, as well as hazing and bullying. The policy at your school is required to be at least as strict as the Agency of Education’s policy, found here. The policy also has to include the step by step procedures, found here.

What does it mean if something is in a policy? 

Policies are the rules adopted by the district’s school board for application to all people and schools in the district. You can think of board-adopted policies like laws that apply in the district.

What is racial harassment, as defined by the policy? 

Racial harassment can either be one serious incident or multiple incidents of verbal, written, visual, or physical conduct, including any incident conducted by electronic means.

Racial harassment is conduct: 

  • directed at the characteristics of a student’s or a student’s family member’s actual or perceived race or color,
  • intended to or does undermine and detract from or interfere with a student’s educational performance or access to school resources, or creates an intimidating hostile, or offensive environment.

Racial harassment can include:

  • the use of epithets, stereotypes, racial slurs, comments, insults, derogatory remarks
  • gestures, threats, graffiti, display, or circulation of written or visual material
  • taunts on manner of speech and negative references to cultural customs.

What do I do if I have been the target of racial harassment? 

Any student who believes that they have been harassed or who witnesses or has knowledge of conduct that they reasonably believe might constitute harassment should promptly report it to any school employee, and/or to the school’s designated employee for receipt of complaints of harassment, hazing or bullying.

How do I know who is the designated employee at my school? 

The school is required to list employees who are designated to receive complaints of harassment, in the school’s policy. Often, it will also be listed in the student handbook. You can also ask your principal or any other administrator for the name of the designated employee.

What can I expect to happen after I make a complaint of racial harassment? 

In almost all cases, the school is required to open an investigation of the complaint no later than one school day after the complaint is made. The school’s administration will assign someone, most likely the designated employee, to conduct the investigation. The staff member who is assigned to conduct the investigation will talk to all parties involved in the incident and anyone who may have witnessed it.

In almost all cases, the investigation is required to be completed no later than five school days after the complaint is given to the designated employee.

Within five school days of the conclusion of the investigation, the designated employee will do the following: give notice in writing to both the person who made the complaint and the person who is accused of harassment (or their parents if they are under 18) that the investigation is completed and whether or not the investigation determined that harassment took place.

What can I ask the school to do after I have been the subject of racial harassment?

After an investigation determines that harassment (or hazing or bullying) took place, the school is required to take prompt and appropriate disciplinary and/or remedial action that the school reasonably believes will stop the harassment, prevent any recurrence of harassment and remedy its effects on the victim(s). Specific things that you can ask for include:

  • education, training and counseling for a student who harassed another student or employee
  • transfer, suspension, and/or expulsion of a student who harassed another student or employee
  • warning, reprimand, and/or termination of an employee who harassed a student or other employee

A series of escalating consequences may be necessary if the initial steps are ineffective in stopping the hazing, harassment and/or bullying. To prevent recurrences, counseling for the violator may be appropriate to ensure that he or she understands what constitutes harassment and the effects it can have.

Depending on how widespread the harassment was and whether there have been any prior incidents, the school may need to provide training for the larger school community to ensure that students, parents and teachers can recognize hazing/harassment/bullying if it recurs and know how to respond.

What if I’ve been through all these steps and I am or my parents are not satisfied with the school’s response? 

A student who has filed a complaint of harassment but is either 1) dissatisfied with the final determination about whether harassment occurred, or 2) believes that although a final determination was made that harassment occurred, the school’s response was inadequate to correct the problem, may request an independent review. To do so, the student needs to make a request for an independent review in writing to the superintendent within 30 days of the school’s final response. The superintendent is required to promptly initiate an independent review by asking the Agency of Education to assign a neutral person who will conduct the review, including an interview of the student who has filed a complaint and relevant school officials and a review of the written materials from the school’s investigation.