The Healthy Relationships Task Force concludes for the school year

A collection of Wayland High School's MVP Club handouts. The district's Healthy Relationship Task Force focuses on ensuring healthy relationships in the district. It was formed after the Dear Wayland Instagram account, which highlighted anonymous stories of sexual assault in Wayland, went viral in summer 2020.

Credit: Emily Roberge

A collection of Wayland High School’s MVP Club handouts. The district’s Healthy Relationship Task Force focuses on ensuring healthy relationships in the district. It was formed after the Dear Wayland Instagram account, which highlighted anonymous stories of sexual assault in Wayland, went viral in summer 2020.

Emily Roberge and Joanna Barrow

In wake of the Dear Wayland Instagram account, the Wayland Public Schools’ district administration created the Healthy Relationships Task Force. The Task Force works to address barriers students may face in reporting incidents of sexual harassment, and their goal is to find potential solutions.

“We hope the Task Force will create a transparent plan of action for survivors to come forward,” Dear Wayland Instagram account administrators said. “We think this is one of the main issues in the past, and if it’s corrected, it could be a big step in the right direction.”

Meeting from Feb. to June 2021, each Task Force meeting lasted an hour and a half. Jess Teperow, who is a part of REACH, a domestic violence prevention organization based in Natick, led the meetings. Wayland High School Principal Allyson Mizoguchi, Assistant Principal Sean Gass, the District’s Title IX coordinator Richard Whitehead, the head of the high school’s wellness department Scott Parseghian, and various guidance counselors at the middle school and high school level joined Teperow in the Task Force meetings. Wayland parents and students joined the meetings as well.

Teperow has a longstanding relationship with Wayland Schools. She has worked with multiple schools in the Wayland Public Schools Administration to teach healthy relationships in the wellness curriculum. She has worked with administrators to create, plan and implement the Task Force.

“When I started [partnering with Wayland], I knew that Wayland was an incredibly strong partnership that I’ve gotten to benefit from [by] being in the classrooms and doing training for staff and parents,” Teperow said. “[It’s] what [has] really allowed me to build upon what was already a strong foundation, a really trusting relationship, ready for all the work on the Task Force and cultivating healthy relationships, [which] starts with the people on the Task Force.”

Teperow also expressed her thoughts on executing change within the community.

“There’s a ripple effect looking at how change happens,” Teperow said. “ It starts with the individual, which is when you yourself start to gain this knowledge, and you start to shift your attitude and beliefs, and that starts to ripple out to all the people you have relationships with… That starts to engage the community, so we can start to see social norms begin to shift, and we start to see change begin to happen, and that can start to change policies.”

There’s a ripple effect looking at how change happens. It starts with the individual, which is when you yourself start to gain this knowledge, and you start to shift your attitude and beliefs, and that starts to ripple out to all the people you have relationships with…”

— Jessica Teperow, REACH employee and task force member

Discussions for a Task Force began when administrators learned about the stories on the Dear Wayland Instagram.

“It’s always the thing you kind of wish you didn’t need, right?” Gavron said. “You wish you didn’t need a Task Force like this, but I think the Dear Wayland Instagram account of the summer definitely opened our eyes to a real need for this work to be done. I think that it was a real wakeup call to us to really hear some of these pains. We also want to do better and do right by kids and families, so that your schooling can take place in a positive environment.”

Administrators then communicated with each other to develop a plan of action.

“Dr. Mizoguchi and I talked a lot and talked with Dr. Unobskey and Mr. Whitehead, our Title IX Coordinator and Director of Student Services, about how we can reflect on our own processes and bring about meaningful change and clearly it needs to be bigger than just within our staff and within our administrators…” Gavron said. “We really, really wanted to hear more from our students and families. Being in a more preventative mode, as opposed to a more reactive mode, is always better.”

Dear Wayland administrators said they hope the WPS administration will address the allegations made in an Instagram post that reports of sexual harassment and misconduct were mishandled by their respective school’s staff.

“While we think it’s great to do preventative work, we think that it’s also important to address instances in the past that haven’t properly been dealt with,” Dear Wayland administrators said. “While we aren’t asking for a full blown investigation, we think it’s the responsibility of the administration to recognize their part in what’s happened in the past.”

The Task Force started their work by separating into two subcommittees. The Policy Committee looked at language in the student handbooks of both the middle school and high school, brainstormed a flowchart that would make the Title IX sexual harassment reporting policies accessible to students, in addition to laying out students’ options after an incident. The school’s policies are currently only located in the appendices of the student handbooks and are written in legal language, making it difficult for students to find and understand.

The Focus Group committee worked on sending out surveys to students about their experience and education with the Title IX and sexual harassment policies. Students remain the driving force behind the Task Force’s future actions.

“One of the things I am really looking forward to in this Task Force is hearing from students on how that curriculum is experienced, and where it lands well and where it falls short, and what other things need to be in place to reinforce a safe culture for kids,” Gavron said. “I think our recent students are best poised to share their experiences.”

A shared view among Task Force members is making the voices in the Task Force more inclusive.

“The more voices and the more diverse the voices are at the table, the better and more inclusive the process will be,” Gavron said.

The more voices and the more diverse the voices are at the table, the better and more inclusive the process will be. ”

— Betsy Gavron, WMS Principal

Task Force leaders admit there is still significant work to be done to create the district wide culture of safety–both in terms of safety from sexual harassment and safety from barriers to reporting incidents–that Gavron spoke of.

“There have been a lot of people who have come forward, but there are always going to be cases we don’t know about,” Dear Wayland administrators said. “We hope that we helped to normalize coming forward with situations instead of staying silent.”

As for the Task Force, administrators will continue their work over the summer.

“This is the beginning of a long journey I imagine,” Gavron said. “We will have to revisit it, because times will change and things will need to be updated with new resources and avenues. There will be more intensive work that I hope makes a big, positive difference.”