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Opening Statement of Councilmember Grosso

Chairperson, Committee on Education
Committee on Education Hearing on
B22-951, the “School Safety Act of 2018,” and
B22-967, the “Student Safety and Consent Education Act of 2018”
B22-1003, the “Parent-led Play Cooperative Amendment Act of 2018”
November 1, 2018

Throughout the past year, the national conversation about school safety has
focused on school shooting incidents, particularly as a result of the willingness of
survivors of the Parkland, Florida tragedy to speak out.

While those mass-casualty incidents are deeply disturbing, despite seeming to
happen ever more often, they are still relatively rare when compared to other
forms of violence that affect our students and schools.

Locally, we had the misfortune to witness another form of violence over the past
year—teachers sexually abusing children and students sexually assaulting other
students.

It was upsetting enough to learn of these incidents, but in too many cases we also
learned that the school’s response was inadequate.

These two bills seek to change that.

Under the School Safety Act of 2018, all schools would have to establish policies
and protocols for preventing and responding to child sexual abuse, including
mandatory prevention-oriented education for staff, students, and parents. The
Office of the State Superintendent for Education would be responsible for
drafting and sharing a model policy that schools could copy.

We learned last year of a school that did not report allegations of child sexual
abuse properly, resulting in the teacher potentially abusing more students before
being arrested. Understandably, this left the school community shaken and with
a lot of questions.

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The bill would also increase the requirements of what efforts DCPS and charter
schools must make to uncover past sexual misconduct of any individual they are
hiring who will have direct contact with students.

Under the Student Safety and Consent Education Act of 2018, all schools would
have to establish policies to prevent and properly respond to instances of sexual
harassment, sexual assault, and dating violence among students.

I continue to be disturbed by reports that high schools were punishing the victims
of sexual assault rather than seeking to support them and address the behaviors
of the perpetrators.

Since the introduction of this legislation multiple individuals have come forward
with stories of how their schools have also mishandled incidents of sexual assault
or harassment among students, including at the elementary, middle, and high
school level.

As part of prevention efforts, the bill also requires DCPS and public charter
schools to provide age-appropriate instruction to students on consent, personal
boundaries, and healthy relationships.

Against the backdrop of the #MeToo movement, we know that it is critical for
our young people to develop the skills to identify inappropriate sexual conduct,
set their own boundaries and respect those of others, and communicate about
what they have experienced.

While our health standards for high school students include comprehensive
sexual education, developing these skills should start at an early age.

When people with tremendous power in our society commit sexual abuse and get
away with it, that sends a message to our youth, and we need to counter that
message with evidence-based, age-appropriate information.

Sadly, in the past few weeks we have heard about new incidents of alleged sexual
abuse or misconduct at two high schools, and I believe that the response to these
has been better than in the past, which shows that when we focus our energy, we
can respond appropriately.

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Before we turn to the first panel of public witnesses, I am going to do something
a little different.

As I mentioned earlier, multiple residents have contacted me about the
experiences they have had with sexual abuse or assault in our schools.

Understandably, not all of them have wanted to appear at a public forum to share
their experience.

One young woman who originally did not want anything to do with the hearing
despite her negative experience, later changed her mind and asked that I share
her testimony.

Her name is not attached to this testimony, but I have spoken with her family
about the experience.

I am going to read her testimony to help us all remember why we are here, but
first I want to remind anyone in the audience or watching online that if you have
your own experiences of sexual abuse or assault and hearing about these topics is
distressing to you, please contact either the D.C. Rape Crisis Center Hotline at
202-333-RAPE or the DC Victim Hotline at 844-4-HELP-DC.

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