Packer’s Investigation Process Unpacked
“If one has experienced any sexual or romantic interactions with any Packer employee, regardless of age and regardless of consent, one should report it; this is a violation of Packer’s harassment policy, and any of these actions are identified as harassment.”
This message appears on page 82 of Packer’s Student Handbook. As students, we are encouraged to confide in our community’s adults if we are ever harassed or made to feel uncomfortable. But without proper knowledge of the complex reporting process and what it entails, many students may not want to come forward, especially when they are accusing an authority figure.
This past summer, a Packer student made public accusations against a faculty member via Instagram after the alleged victim, who had been told that an investigation was taking place, discovered that the accused teacher was present at an Upper School Chapel. These accusations were buttressed by alumnae and current students, who spoke of their experiences with this same staff member, some mentioning their own formal reports. The ensuing response from many Packer students was, unsurprisingly, complete indignation. Who was in charge of these investigations? How was nothing done? What even is Packer’s investigation process?
“Appendix F” of the Student Handbook, “Sexual Misconduct Policy and Reporting Structure” addresses this question. This section is entirely dedicated to defining and laying out Packer’s protocols regarding acts of sexual harassment from both students and faculty. Page 16 and 80 of the handbook state that “any sexual or romantic conduct between an adult Packer Staff member and a present Packer student of any age, even if 17 years of age or older, and even if consented to or welcomed by the student, is strictly prohibited by this Policy and will result in dismissal of the adult involved.” “Romantic conduct” includes, sexual advances, requests for sexual favors, and any other verbal or physical forms of harassment.
There are a few viable paths a student can go down in terms of the reporting process. The handbook strongly suggests that the student go to a trusted adult within the Packer community. Then, this adult is meant to report the incident(s) to the Head of Upper School, Maria Nunes, and then to the Head of School, Jennifer Weyburn, who decides what action should be taken based on the nature and veracity of the accusation(s). For anonymous reports, a student can use the T&M Protection Services. When it comes to faculty misconduct or sexual harassment, external investigators from T&M are immediately contacted and involved. These investigators from T&M interview both the accused perpetrator and the alleged victim, cultivating a comprehensive and (ideally) accurate report of events, which is then presented to the Head of School and Board.
“You should think of an outside investigation as fact finding. So the investigator is hired to gather information…and then it’s the Head of School and the Board that makes a decision, it’s a little bit like when you watch TV shows, with the investigation,” Ms. Nunes says with a laugh. While she may have been joking, the investigation process is detailed and thorough. Still, there are ways in which this system falls short.
Even though the handbook attempts to establish strict behavioral guidelines, Ms. Nunes admits that “the faculty handbook deals more directly with kinds of issues of boundaries.” This ambiguity in the Student Handbook leaves students unequipped to judge whether or not a faculty member is engaging in misconduct, potentially leading students to dismiss sexual advances and warning signs as non-threatening.
And what happens if the wrong decision is made or the investigation is incomplete? The fact that only Dr. Weyburn and the Board are involved in the decision-making process has led to some major biases and/or shortcomings. While the handbook claims that if either the accused or the accuser is unhappy with the resolution, “remedy may be sought by contacting the Head of School,” this statement comes across as vague and disingenuous in its attempt not to make any promises in favor of either party.
Additionally, the recent incidents have revealed major problems with communications between the investigators and the student and their family. Both Ms. Nunes and Director of Health and Wellness Bridget Londay agree that it was in this area that the investigation process fell short.
“There are the rules that we define, and then how well–and then the following of them,” Ms. Nunes highlights. While the official protocol is to maintain constant communication with the student and the student’s family, when these elements of the process can easily be forgotten major repercussions can manifest, as we saw in the case from earlier this year, where the student was forced to see her alleged abuser without warning.
Ms. Nunes and Ms. Londay also agree that Packer is using their recent mistakes to address some of the faults within the investigation process. Ms. Londay has formed a new Boundary and Sexual Misconduct Task Force, a small group of students and faculty who are working to implement concrete action in order to improve community policy.
“We’re in the process of gathering information,” Ms. Londay notes, “so we’re asking students for their input, we’re asking different adults in different capacities like advisors, coaches, teachers for their input.” All of this, she claims, is to reform the current policies in the student and faculty handbooks. Additional training for both faculty and students on what is appropriate vs. inappropriate conduct has already been identified by the task force as an essential implementation into Packer’s programming.
Similarly, Ms. Londay discusses the desire for a more inclusive process, and her hopes for the addition of a larger group of people who aid in the determination of the investgation’s results. She insists that the school must “make sure that the outcome is in support of the health of the student and the community at large.” Furthermore, it is clear that faculty prioritize the student body above all else. When asked about whether she finds the responsibility of being a mandated reporter difficult, Ms. Londay responded with this: “especially in the health department, the central aspect of our role is the health and wellness of the kid.”
Recent events from this summer have shed light on the flaws and failures of Packer’s investigation process, but what is abundantly clear is that the faculty wish to foster a safe learning environment in which students can feel supported by systems that work in their best interest. One step at a time, Packer’s administrative and health teams are making more of an effort to engage in restorative, just practices, and to have these principles be reflected in all of their policies.
Without hesitating, Ms. Londay affirmed “It’s not a pleasant situation,” in reference to having to report against a fellow staff member, “but I don’t find it difficult…there’s protocols in place. There’s a reason they’re in place. It’s to keep kids safe.”