Tam teacher Eva Rieder spoke at the February 6 Tamalpais Union High School District [TUHSD] board meeting following allegations voiced by Redwood math teacher Jessica Crabtree at the January 23 TUHSD board meeting that TUHSD has a pattern of dismissing cases of sexual harassment perpetrated by male students against female teachers. Rieder stated that, in her 16 years working for the school district, her reports of male students’ sexual harassment towards her, including threatening anonymous emails, voicemails, pictures, verbal comments, and physical contact have been ignored by school and district administration. Current district policy prohibits sexual harassment but doesn’t make explicit mention of protocol in cases perpetrated against district employees by students.
Rieder, who had previously hesitated to speak out publicly for fear of retaliation, said there was a culture of silence around sexual harassment on a district wide level. (Official district policy prohibits “retaliatory behavior or action against district employees or other persons who complain, testify, or otherwise participate in the [sexual harassment] complaint process, according to district guideline).
“We aren’t told that it’s happening to other people and there’s a culture of looking the other way,” Rieder said. “For many years I spoke out [to administration] and I felt that nobody was going to do anything at all.”
In an email statement to The Tam News, TUHSD board president Leslie Lundgren said that “as a result of Ms. Crabtree and Ms. Rieder’s claims, the Assistant Superintendent of Human Resources, Lars Christensen and Title IX Officer, Wes Cedros and newly appointed Title IX Officer, Dr. Tara Taupier, are working to develop a mode and method to gain a better understanding of the working environment of our female teachers” and that the district has retained “the services of an attorney who specializes in workplace investigations to assist with this important step.” An investigation into the allegations is currently ongoing.
An incident as recent as this past December was reported by Rieder, who alleges that it was never properly addressed by administration. “By the description of sexual harassment what happened in my classroom [in December] was sexual harassment. And I was told it would be investigated in January when school resumed…I haven’t heard anything and it’s February. So the issue got dropped,” she said.
Principal Farr said that he was not aware of the claims Rieder made in December, but said that “[Reider and I] have had conversations about her experiences [with sexual harassment] here in the past and just her general concerns.”
Rieder believes that the sexual harassment occurring in the TUHSD is more prevalent than in other districts.
“I know a lot of other teachers outside of our district,” she said. “When I tell these stories [about sexual harassment] they’re like, ‘I’m sorry, what is happening in your district? That can’t be real.’”
Farr said that he only knew of “an incident or two [of student-teacher sexual harassment] since I have been on board, and those matters were addressed and dealt with directly.” He declined to comment on Rieder’s allegation of a pattern of sexual harassment against female teachers at Tam.
“I would have to do my own investigating to see if indeed there is a pattern, so I really can’t respond in any official way,” Farr said.
Both Crabtree and Rieder cited a lack of adequate sexual harassment training and protocol enforcement as causes of what they identify as TUHSD’s disproportionate frequency of sexual harassment.
“Just some education would be a start,” Rieder, who’s repeatedly asked administration for additional training and felt ignored, said. “That’s all we need. That’s what we do, is education. How hard would it be to get someone in once a year to give you guys a presentation or something?”
Currently, a basic level of sexual harassment training is part of the freshman year social issues curriculum.
“I do think that perhaps in the upper grades we could do a better job of bringing these topics back to the forefront for additional support,” Farr said.
Rieder stressed the importance of teaching students what is appropriate in a professional environment before they enter the working world.
“I can think of probably at least twelve boys who, if I was working with them, they wouldn’t have a job anymore, because a real employer, a corporate employer would take this very seriously,” she said. “….If we actually had more training…I think our students would be going out into the world much more prepared for what’s actually going on in the world right now.”
Rieder said that the continued dismissal of her sexual harassment by school and district administration has led her to feel unsafe in her work environment. “I can genuinely say, I do not walk into work everyday feeling safe,” she said. “…There are things I don’t do anymore, like my door is locked if I am hanging out in my room because I don’t want to be caught unawares,” she said.
According to Rieder, the sexual harassment that she has endured has affected her teaching. “I remember there was a year where so much stuff had happened and I’d gotten so many awful emails, I didn’t want my back to face the class, because of some of the comments I’d received,” she said. “And I was like, how do I write on the board while not [turning my back]?”
In addition to Crabtree and her husband, also a Redwood teacher, several members of the Tam math department attended the board meeting in a show of support for Rieder. Tam social studies teacher Luc Chamberlain gave public comment after her, further testifying about the sexism within the Tam student population.
Crabtree, whose testimony inspired Rieder to come forward publicly, called her “courageous” for speaking out about sexual harassment. “[I] am happy that she felt that she could finally come tell her story. Because I know for me that I, like her, the first thing you get told, when you bring this forward, you get crushed and then you second guess yourself and then you think you’re wrong in your perspective,” she said. “It takes a long time for you to realize that you’re not wrong. You’re just being blown off by an adult man who decides to believe a teen male instead of an adult woman.”
Photo by Madeline Asch