ELWOOD — Late last school year, Elwood Jr.-Sr. High School Principal Tami Davis was approached by a female student who was uncomfortable with the romantic intentions of a male schoolmate.

“He was too possessive, and it was just weird,” Davis said. “I just talked to the girl.”

Though it’s a scenario that has played out in one way or another for decades in schools throughout Madison County and surrounding communities, a recent Ball State study concludes few schools across the nation have protocols to deal with teen dating violence.

Preventing and Responding to Teen Dating Violence: A National Study of School Principals’ Perspectives and Practices” by Jagdish Khubchandani, a community health education professor in Ball State’s College of Health, was published in the journal “Violence and Gender.”

Khubchandani said he became interested in examining the issue of teen dating violence for his Ph.D thesis because of the recent Me Too movement in which prominent men nationwide have been held accountable for alleged sexual assaults.

“There was the Me Too movement. But a lot of teens still were victims of dating violence,” he said.

Khubchandani surveyed school principals nationally, but almost more interesting than the answers to his questions was the response to many to the subject of the survey. Several, he said, wrote angry letters accusing him of creating one more thing for them to monitor.

“Many of them are overwhelmed,” he said. “They don’t want to take responsibility. Then they have to take on the liability and call the police. School principals are reluctant to jump into that because it generates controversy.”

Though some principals would argue that their existing bullying and assault policies cover the kinds of actions that take place when there is an incident of teen dating violence, Khubchandani said he believes it’s not enough. In fact, Indiana has Heather’s Law, which details principals’ responsibilities and of which many simply are not aware, he said.

“There is an overlap between bullying and dating violence,” he said. “What’s most disconcerting, most of the principals are unwilling to engage Child Protective Services and the parents.”

Early intervention is important because teens who are subject to dating violence become adults in violent relationships, and it starts or continues a generational cycle of violence, Khubchandani said.

He said one reason this remains an issue that principals, especially in the upper grades, are primarily males in their 50s and 60s, who are uncomfortable and not trained to deal with this emerging issue.

“They are resistant to the change and reluctant to implement new strategies,” he said.

But Davis said in defense of her male colleagues , they may fear that the intimate nature of the discussion could be misconstrued and open them to liability, especially in cross-gender situations. For that reason, she suggests male administrators bring a female administrator into a room when speaking with a female student.

“As a male, I would want to be very cautious. All it takes is one accusation. That could ruin a career,” she said. “I feel there are so many programs out there they can bring in that will take care of that for them.”

Elwood tries to minimize the likelihood of teen dating violence through prevention by offering Body Safety assemblies in coordination with Kids Talk, said Telisha Glassburn, counselor for seventh through ninth grades. Body Safety provides age-appropriate information on sexting, date rape, domestic violence and appropriate touching for students from grades kindergarten through 12.

She said under the law, teen dating violence stretches beyond the boundaries of the school.

“That would be an automatic DCS report,” she said.

Connie Rickert, principal at Pendleton Heights High School, said her school does not have a specific policy for teen dating violence.

“We believe that our policies for harassment, bullying, threatening and intimidating behaviors, and student conduct sufficiently cover teen dating violence,” she said.

Jay McCurry, superintendent at Liberty Christian School, said he believes the spiritual emphasis in his learning environment results in minimal violent incidents of any kind, including between dating teens.

“It hasn’t been an issue with our kids, at least that I’m aware of,” he said.

In the rare instance in which it would become a problem, McCurry said, it’s not his job to investigate. He likely would turn the matter over to law enforcement.

“If it’s violence, that’s almost criminal. To me, that’s a step above bullying,” he said.

McCurry said he also would act if he heard of an act of teen dating violence between his students if it took place outside of school hours and off school grounds.

“If one of my students is causing the violence or the violence is against them, you better believe I would step in,” he said.

But McCurry said he prefers to be proactive rather than reactive, especially because some students come from broken homes with bad relationship modeling. That’s why his school offers students some guidance on health relationships.

“Those type of situations would be covered under our health class and certainly would be addressed in that setting,” he said.
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