New message to students: No sex at school
JANESVILLE--Janesville School District leaders are considering how to tell students that having sexual relations at school is wrong.
The move is in response to five high school students who were expelled from the district this spring, all accused of engaging in “sexual activity” at school.
Officials would say very little about what kind of sexual activity was involved.
Director of Student Services Yolanda Cargile indicated the district is concerned, and that's why students could soon be hearing warnings about sex. The message could come in student advisories (homerooms), in health classes and/or support groups.
The idea is to promote “making better choices but also not keeping quiet when you know of a situation taking place,” Cargile said.
The district also is considering educating parents so all adults would be sending the same message, Cargile said.
Cargile agreed five expulsions for sexual activity in one year is unusual, “but we consistently work on making sure our schools are safe places for our students.”
None of the instances involved sexual assault, Cargile said.
District officials would not say what kinds of sexual activity the students engaged in, how many separate incidents of sexual activity were represented by the five expulsions or whether other students who were not expelled also were involved in the sexual activity.
Sara Gehrig, an attorney who acts as “hearing officer,” or judge, in the quasi-judicial expulsion hearings, said discussing details of the offenses would reveal too much about the cases, leading to violations of the students' privacy rights and violations of state law governing the release of student records.
The district never reveals expelled students' genders or schools they attend, but officials said even revealing details of what happened in the incidents themselves could allow someone to identify the students.
Officials also would not clearly define what sexual activity might qualify for expulsion.
Cargile said kissing is not an expellable offense, but “engaging in sexual activity” at school could be grounds for expulsion.
Groping under clothing might be considered sexual activity, but each case is different, Cargile said.
Gehrig said an expulsion is not just about the immediate offense, but about the student's behavioral record, so a relatively minor offense might trigger an expulsion hearing for a student with a history of infractions, while another student might not be expelled for a more serious offense.
Gehrig and Cargile both indicated that the principals and superintendent decide whether the sexual activity and students' records rise to the level of expulsion.
Superintendent Karen Schulte declined to comment.
Gehrig said her job is to decide the length of expulsion or whether to allow a student to stay in school with a list of conditions and the threat of expulsion for any violation. The school board either confirms or modifies Gehrig's rulings.
Cargile did not know whether consensual sex is specifically prohibited in the student handbook and would not comment on that topic before reviewing the handbook.
A Gazette review of the high school handbook shows no mention of consensual sex among the many infractions listed, although sexual assault and public displays of affection are listed.
But some things should be expected of students, Gehrig said.
“It's just common sense. You don't hurt other people, you don't ingest controlled substances, you don't have sex on school grounds. You don't engage in high levels of sexual activity,” Gehrig said.
The district's announcement of the expulsions specifies that the offenses were a danger to health and safety at school.
“In my personal opinion, sex acts among minors are dangerous, emotionally and physically,” Gehrig said.
State statistics show 46 births to Janesville mothers under age 18 in 2010. Rock County had the third-highest teen birth rate among Wisconsin counties in 2010, at 16.9 percent.
Rock County's rate of sexually transmitted disease among teens was 3 percent in 2011, the sixth-highest percentage among the state's 72 counties that year.
Schulte in 2010 decided to remove questions about students' sexual behavior from the state's annual Youth Risk Behavior Survey, a common practice. Schulte said at the time that the questions were too graphic and intrusive of students' privacy.
JANESVILLE--The Janesville School District used to be more forthcoming about expulsions.
In 2005, for example, Karen Schulte, who at the time was director of student services, told The Gazette about at boy and girl found in an out-of-the-way place at Craig High School during lunchtime, engaging in activity that involved undressing.
Schulte said the incident “quite possibly” involved sexual intercourse. The two were expelled.
Those were the kinds of details The Gazette sought for the recent expulsions of five students who were accused of participating in “sexual activity” at school, but officials declined to elaborate.
Such details could allow someone to identify the students, which would violate state law, officials said.
Schulte now is superintendent. She declined to be interviewed about the recent expulsions.
The 2005 incident was the first in officials' memory of students being expelled for consensual sexual activity, and it prompted a review of the rules in the student handbook.
Schulte said at the time that she wasn't sure the students knew they could be expelled for sexual activity at school.
Schulte said in 2005 that a committee that was being formed to review the expulsion system would consider consensual sexual activity because of the incident at Craig.
The current school board policy and administrative regulation governing expulsions do not mention consensual sexual activity. The policy does state that the school board can expel a student for conduct that endangers health or safety of others.