Sexual Misconduct: Policies and Procedures

Princeton Day School (PDS) is unequivocally committed to the safety of each student entrusted to our care. This commitment is reflected in our Upper School Handbook, which emphasizes that “[t]he school's most solemn obligation is to ensure the health, safety, and well-being of every student and of the entire PDS community.” In furtherance of this commitment, the Upper School Handbook makes it a “ primary offense” to engage in “harassment, hazing, and bullying” and also prohibits “physically or verbally threatening, abusive, intimidating, demeaning, or deliberately disrespectful behavior towards a member of the school community or guest.” The Middle School Handbook likewise states that “[a]ll members of the PDS community have the right to work, learn, and plan in an environment that is free from harassment.” And in the Lower School, the same fundamental expectations are established by classifying as “serious offenses” any behavior that harasses, demeans, or compromises the safety of another PDS student.

While harassment, abuse, and intimidation have no place in a school community, regardless of the particular forms they assume, sexual misconduct warrants heightened attention and consideration because of its especially pernicious effect on the safety and well-being of our community. Princeton Day School categorically prohibits all forms of sexual misconduct – including sexual assault, abuse, harassment, intimidation, stalking, and discrimination. Through education and intervention, PDS aspires to create an educational environment that is free from these inappropriate behaviors. Where inappropriate conduct is found, PDS will act promptly with the goal of eliminating the conduct and taking whatever other corrective action it deems necessary.

I. Defining Sexual Misconduct

Sexual misconduct can take various forms. It may be direct and explicit, or it may be more subtle and insidious. It may be behavior that is pervasive and repetitive, or it may be behavior that occurs only once but is particularly severe.

It is the responsibility of all members of the community to ensure that their words, actions, and interactions with others always promote respect and trust. Attempts to justify improper behavior as a “prank” or “joke” do not change its inappropriate nature if the object of the joke is not a willing participant. Sexual misconduct has no place in a school community, regardless of the subjective intent of those perpetrating it.

The following are examples of sexual misconduct. The list is illustrative, not exhaustive. Members of the community should seek advice and assistance from advisors, Class Deans, school counselors, a Division Head, or the Director of Wellness in any circumstance in which they are made to feel uncomfortable by the behaviors of another.

  • physical assault, including rape or any coerced or non-consensual sexual relations
  • unwanted sexual physical contact
  • unwanted or unwelcome sexual advances, whether they involve physical touching or not (a single unwanted advance can constitute sexual misconduct if sufficiently severe, as can a recurring pattern of unwelcome advances)
  • sexual or lewd jokes, remarks, leering, whistling, brushing against the body, or other suggestive or insulting gestures or comments
  • inquiries into — or trafficking in rumors about — another person’s sexual experiences or activities; discussion of one’s own sexual experiences or activities other than discussed in a confidential medical or mental health visit
  • audiotaping, videotaping, or otherwise recording others in sexual or other potentially embarrassing circumstances and forwarding or threatening to forward the recorded material to others
  • intimidating or suggestive remarks about an individual’s sexual orientation, whether actual or implied
  • sexually suggestive or degrading sounds or remarks (written, oral, or electronically transmitted), including graffiti and the spreading of sexual rumors, made to or about another member of the community
  • the use of School technology to transmit sexually suggestive, offensive, and/or degrading material, whether received at the School or elsewhere
  • the open display of sexually offensive objects, pictures, and messages
  • creating a “hostile environment” in which sexual misconduct – whether physical, verbal, or psychological –causes the School environment to be permeated with intimidation, ridicule, or insult that is sufficiently severe or pervasive to alter the conditions of a student’s education

II. Retaliation

Retaliation is any form of intimidation, reprisal, or harassment directed against a student who reports discrimination, harassment, hazing, assault, or bullying, provides information during an investigation of such behavior, or witnesses or has reliable information about such behavior. Retaliation against any individual for reporting violations of the policy, whether by the object of the complaint or someone else, will not be tolerated and will be subject to the same strict discipline as harassment, discrimination, hazing, or bullying itself. Each retaliatory offense will be investigated and sanctioned separately. Individuals who themselves are not complainants, but who participate in an investigation, for example, as witnesses or investigators, will also be protected from retaliation under this policy.

III. Legal Definitions and School Policy

Stricter standards of behavior than those provided by law may apply under the policies of PDS in order that we may prevent sexual misconduct. PDS reserves the right to apply disciplinary measures and other corrective action in a case of a single expression, act, or gesture, if the School determines that it is of sufficient severity to warrant disciplinary measures or other remedial action. Conduct need not meet the legal definitions of harassment, discrimination, hazing, or bullying to violate the School’s expectations for appropriate behavior and to be actionable.

While the school’s standards may at times be broader than those provided by law, where appropriate the school may involve law enforcement in the investigation of sexual misconduct allegations involving our students.

IV. Prevention

Princeton Day School is committed to providing the healthiest possible school environment for all members of our community. As such, the School regularly engages students, faculty, and staff in opportunities to understand and put into practice community standards and expectations. Training for students, faculty, and staff that is specific to harassment, discrimination, bullying, hazing, and sexual harassment is provided at regular intervals at developmentally appropriate levels each school year. The aim of such training is to prevent such behaviors from occurring and to equip community members with the understanding, skills, and support to adequately respond to such instances should they occur. Training occurs for groups of students and employees around particular topics. The School may also require individuals to attend such training to improve their understanding of the issues surrounding harassment, discrimination, bullying, hazing, and sexual harassment and the importance of preventing such instances. Information is always available through the Head of School, the Associate Head of School, Division Heads, the Director of Wellness, and School Counselors. In addition, the School works closely with attorneys and healthcare professionals who can provide additional information and training to members of the School community when needed.

V. Reporting Complaints

Princeton Day School responds thoughtfully and vigorously to any reported allegation of sexual misconduct perpetrated against students by other students; employees of the School; by vendors, contractors, other third parties having agreements or other contacts with the School; by supporters of the School (donors, volunteers, alumni, parents), and/or visitors to the School. Even when students are not certain about whether they have been subject to or witnessed sexual misconduct, it is important that the behavior be reported. Individuals who have been subject to such behavior often suffer in silence,

believing that they are the only one to whom this is happening and wrongly feeling that they are somehow responsible. Inappropriate behavior can continue over many years because individuals think they are alone, or because they fear punishment or unwanted attention and embarrassment if they share their experiences. Any individual who feels that she or he has been subject to discrimination, harassment, hazing, or bullying may consult with their advisor, Class Dean, a school counselor, the Director of Wellness, a Division Head, or another trusted adult. Any member of the faculty or staff of PDS who witnesses or otherwise becomes aware of discrimination, harassment, hazing, or bullying in violation of this policy or who becomes aware of retaliation against a student who provides information concerning a violation of this policy, is required to report it immediately to Head of School, Associate Head of School, or a Division Head. Such reporting does not discharge the obligation of the faculty or staff member to report actions covered by reporting laws to the appropriate legal authority. A member of the faculty or staff may not make promises of confidentiality to a student or parent who informs him/her of an allegation of harassment, discrimination, hazing, bullying, or retaliation.

Upper School

An individual who needs to report an incident of harassment, discrimination, bullying, hazing, or sexual harassment in the Upper School may do so through one of three means:

  • Report the incident directly to the Head of School, Associate Head of School, Division Head, or Class Dean, who will deal with the issue directly or will refer the matter to the Investigative Board (see below).
  • Report the incident to a trusted adult in the community (e.g., a teacher, advisor, or school counselor).
  • Report the incident to a member of the Investigative Board (IB). This group, which is charged with supporting students who are victims of sexual misconduct and investigating allegations of sexual misconduct, consists of the Associate Head of School, the Director of Wellness, the Head of the Upper School, and the Head Faculty Advisor to the Judiciary Committee.

While the School cannot promise strict confidentiality because information must be shared in order to conduct an effective investigation, the School releases information concerning complaints of harassment, discrimination, hazing, bullying, or retaliation only on a need-to-know basis, such as to conduct a comprehensive investigation or to ensure that the requirements of this policy and applicable law are met. The school also reserves the right to contact law enforcement officials in appropriate cases to meet applicable reporting obligations and to enlist the help of law enforcement in investigating allegations of sexual misconduct.

Middle School

A Middle School student who believes he or she may have been the victim of sexual misconduct — or who wishes to report an instance of sexual misconduct involving another student — should seek out his or her advisor, a teacher, a Dean, the Head of the Middle School, a school counselor, or another trusted adult in the community.

Lower School

A Lower School student who needs to report an instance of harassment, incivility, or other misconduct should seek out his or her teacher, the Head of Lower School, a school counselor, or a trusted adult in the community.

VI. Response to Complaints

Upper School

Because allegations of sexual misconduct often involve sensitive matters, they are not appropriate for students to adjudicate through the normal Judiciary Committee Process. Instead, investigation and adjudication will occur through adult-mediated channels: principally through the Investigative Board, which will make recommendations to the Head of School on an appropriate school response.

Once a report of sexual misconduct involving PDS students is made, the Investigative Board (IB) will investigate the reported incident. The investigation will include interviewing all relevant parties (the reporting party, the alleged victim, the alleged perpetrator, any relevant witnesses) and gathering any relevant physical evidence. The IB will then deliberate, make a judgment as to whether an act of sexual misconduct occurred, and make a recommendation to the Head of School on an appropriate school response, which can include formal reprimand, probation, temporary removal from the community, or separation. The school may also forward information to appropriate legal authorities for further follow-up.

Middle School

Our Middle School students occupy a broad developmental spectrum, with our 5th graders still very close to their Lower School years and our 7th and 8th graders beginning to emerge as young adults. As we investigate allegations of sexual misconduct in the Middle School, we therefore do so in a way that is always mindful of the age and maturity of the students involved.

When a report of sexual misconduct involving PDS Middle School students is brought forward, we approach the issue with the goal of supporting students, ensuring the safety and well-being of the community, and gathering facts in a discreet and sensitive way. The Head of the Middle School, the Associate Head of School, the appropriate Grade Dean, and a member of the Student Services Team — with training on how to handle these investigations with care and sensitivity — will investigate the reported incident and respond appropriately, mindful of the delicate nature of sexual misconduct allegations and the emotions they can elicit. The School response can include formal reprimand, probation, temporary removal from the community, or separation. The School may also forward information to appropriate legal authorities for further follow-up.

Lower School

Sexual misconduct investigations in the Lower School must be undertaken with heightened care and sensitivity. The goal is to take seriously any allegation of improper conduct and to ensure that students remain safe at all times, but also to speak with students about these matters in an age-appropriate and sensitive way. Princeton Day School carefully considers the age and maturity of students in responding to allegations of harassment and incivility, always mindful of the delicate nature of these matters and the need to proceed with the highest degree of care and discretion.

When a report of harassment, incivility, or other misconduct involving PDS Lower School students is made, the Head of Lower School and a member of the Student Services Team — with training on how to handle these investigations with care and sensitivity — will investigate the reported incident and respond appropriately. The School may also forward information to appropriate legal authorities for further follow-up.