Parents in Washington state have started to see the new federal guidelines for students staying at home for extended periods as a way to keep their kids safe from sexual assault.
“Parents are seeing it and they’re not happy with it, and we have to be a little bit more proactive,” said Lauren Toth, the school district’s vice-president of communication and public engagement.
But some are saying they can’t let their kids stay in their classrooms for the long haul.
“The reality is that a lot of these kids have been sexually assaulted, and they know what that means,” said one parent who declined to give her name.
“They know that if you let them stay in your home for more than 30 days they’re going to have some kind of psychological impact.”
The district started tracking students staying in their schools in October, and says it has been seeing a “significantly higher” number of students reporting sexual assaults since then.
At least two students have reported being sexually assaulted since the guidelines went into effect, according to the district.
Toth said she hopes the increased attention to the issue will encourage more parents to let their children stay in school.
“We want to make sure we’re educating parents, so that when they come home from school they’re safe,” she said.
“I think that we’re just in a different era.”
But not everyone agrees with the district’s approach.
“A lot of parents are really concerned about their kids safety.
But the reality is, kids aren’t coming home from a night at a party that they didn’t invite anyone over, and that’s when they should be safe,” said Laura Kooiman, the president of the National Parents Organization, a national group that has fought for changes to school sexual assault policies.
“So they don’t want to take any steps that might make it harder for their kids.”
The school district says it’s already been monitoring the number of sexual assault cases reported to police and is considering new protocols to better protect students from sexual predators.
It also says it is working with police and other partners to prevent repeat offenders.
“Our goal is to get every student home safely, and this new approach gives us more confidence that our students will be safe for their entire lives,” said Toth.
But advocates say they’re concerned that the district has little incentive to do so, since they’re still working with the federal government to create new policies.
For example, if schools were required to use a sexual assault prevention strategy, schools would have to have a standardized strategy to inform parents about the risk of sexual violence and the importance of being alert to sexual assault and harassment.
The district has been doing that since at least the fall of 2016, when it started requiring students to report incidents to the police, the district says.
But Toth says she is worried that this strategy will be used for political reasons.
“If we’re all going to be talking about how to deal with sexual violence, we’re going be saying how do we address it?
And if you don’t, you don, you can’t,” she added.
“You can’t just say, ‘Oh, we need to get rid of the policy and move forward.’
And that’s not how we do this.”