Inside the eyes of teachers at NYC iSchool: How should harassment be approached?

Nikki Hatzopoulos, iNews class reporter

It can happen anywhere; – on your way to a friend’s house, on the subway, and even through a screen, but one of the most common occurrences for harassment takes place in, you guessed it, school.

Schools don’t always care as much as they say they do. There’s a fine line between saying you care as opposed to taking action in order to show it. Although many may not realize it, the difference it makes is enough to secure one’s safety- especially that of the students. Teachers, staff, and administration are all key factors to how issues such as that of harassment are dealt with,so that leaves us with a common, yet unanswered question: what do they really think should be done about this?

What is harassment?

Harassment, whether that be verbal or physical, can happen to anybody regardless of their age or sex. According to the ACLU of California, “Harassment is when the speech or actions are so severe, pervasive, or targeted at particular people that it hinders the student’s ability to get an education, significantly harms their well-being, substantially interferes with their rights, or intimidates the student because of their identity.”

Harassment is often done with a hurtful motive, and can be carried out in various ways. The EEOC states, “Offensive conduct may include, but is not limited to, offensive jokes, slurs, epithets or name calling, physical assaults or threats, intimidation, ridicule or mockery, insults or put-downs, offensive objects or pictures, and interference with work performance.”

It’s a huge issue, there’s no denying that, so what have staff in schools been doing all this time?

Staff at the iSchool: What would they do?

Several interviews have been conducted from teachers, to administration, and even the deans of our school in hopes of gaining an enhanced understanding of their mindset and disciplinary actions they view as appropriate for situations like this.

Ms. Leimsider starts us off with a basic protocol: “First we investigate the situation. We need to talk to the student who reported it to get information. We need to reach out to potential witnesses, and talk to the student being accused.” 

Ms. Asher states that “Ignoring it or hoping it will go away or get better is not something that proves to be beneficial in any situation. The student needs to be taught why what they did was wrong and unacceptable.”

Physical Harassment:

Mr. Whittaker, one of iSchool’s deans, believes that it is important to “take as much information as possible from the people that may be around and the people that have seen it, get both sides of the story.”

Ms. Asher adds on by saying, “I would definitely call school safety and let administration know just so we could stop the situation from going on and prevent anyone from getting hurt any further.”

She continues, “Being that I’m not a guidance counselor or a dean, I wouldn’t have the role of direct involvement, but if I knew the kid personally from class or advisory I would try to talk to them and make sure that they were okay and if I could get any information from their side of the story.” 

Verbal Harassment:

When asked about verbal harassment (toward race, sexuality, etc.) at the school, Mr. Whittaker said,“We take that very seriously here, it’s a very serious offense.”

He adds, “Is the language threatening, is it purely racist? There are several different levels, but at the end of the day the most important thing is the safety of our students.”

Ms. Asher agrees, “Depending on the aggressiveness of the topic, like if it was really horrific in the moment I would say something in front of the class because those are the types of things that can trigger people and it would trigger me to say something.”

She says, “I would follow up with a private conversation, and I would talk to them about why it’s a problem. I wouldn’t want to scold a student because a lot of times it’s a learning experience, but at the same time we have to shut it down and make sure the learning environment is safe for everybody. I would address it right away.” 

Respecting student boundaries:

When discussing the circumstance of a student feeling uncomfortable around another one of their peers, Ms. Asher says,“I would definitely make sure that those two students were never put together for pairs or group work, and sit them on opposite ends of the room.”

“If something were to arise because of the nature of being in that room I would talk to guidance and follow up on the student who said something to me to see if they had any thoughts about what I can do to make the situation better for them,” she adds.

Ms. Leimsider expands by saying that “based on why the student is feeling uncomfortable or what’s going on, then things can be taken from there.”

How are other schools approaching situations like this?

Although harassment can be displayed in many different forms and during several different occasions, in no way does that allow for a decreased amount of treatment or attention. 

Unfortunately, it can be quite common for teachers to ignore student concerns. Administration and staff do not take much authority, which hinders the victim in both a mental and academic sense. 

In an ABC News article about a thirteen year old girl experiencing harassment in school, it was said that “After taking her daughter to the hospital, Kim Funes couldn’t believe what the school told her when she asked them to call police and they refused.

‘I was told the girl would receive two days’ suspension. And no charges would be filed against the girl because it was her first offense,’ Kim Funes said.”

Although some schools take inappropriate approaches such as not providing proper consequences to ensure the victims safety, some take the time to truly understand their students’ concerns and make sure they feel comfortable in the school environment.

In another news article about a girl who was bullied in her gym class, the school’s response was extremely effective:“The other student involved was suspended for three days and will undergo at-home learning for the remainder of the school year.” Not only will this make the victim comfortable going to school, but it will give her a sense of protection. It will be easier for her to trust the school, and if any issues arise she will report them without hesitation.

Building trust between students and the staff at their school is extremely important. 

An article on harassment states, “When adults respond quickly and consistently to bullying behavior they send the message that it is not acceptable. Research shows this can stop bullying behavior over time.”

Expanding on this, that same article states,“Parents, school staff, and other adults in the community can help kids prevent bullying by talking about it, building a safe school environment, and creating a community-wide bullying prevention strategy.” 

The adults in a school setting are responsible for what happens to their students. Although they may not be able to fully prevent incidents from happening, it is their duty to make an effort to understand and take initiative. Yet another article expands on this by saying, “What’s even more troubling is that harassment is happening in front of the adults who are supposed to stop it.”

Continuing on, that same article mentions that “if a school decides that sexual harassment did indeed take place, the school is obligated to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.”


So how do we fix this? Not only should staff make an effort to listen to students with an unbiased mindset, but they should also take proper action.

Not everybody is going to be willing to report a situation that has made them uncomfortable, and there is nothing wrong with that. Assumptions are never the effective route to pass through with situations like this. Several factors such as one’s physical appearance, race, and even sex unfortunately play a huge role in the way schools choose to approach harassment. 

Finishing off, Ms. Leimsider states, “I would want to be heard and understood. I would want to know that my feelings were taken seriously, and that I was supported.”