Seattle Public School students are bravely sharing their concerns about the district’s alleged mishandling of reports of sexual assault and harassment, and demanding change.
They should keep pushing — along with their parents — until they get results.
More than 100 students protested outside the Seattle Public School board meeting last week demanding changes in how the district responds to sexual assault cases, including stronger staff training, accountability and related issues. It was the most recent of several protests this fall involving hundreds of students in Seattle. Students in Bellevue and across the country also are expressing similar concerns.
“I am sorry that you have to do that,” Seattle school board Vice President Chandra Hampson told students at last week’s protest. “We should have already solved these issues for you.”
That’s the truth. Schools have legal and ethical responsibility to provide safe and equitable learning environments. The Equal Opportunity in Education Act, or Title IX, is older than many of these students’ parents. Even when assaults and harassment occur off campus, those incidents reverberate inside school walls.
Survivors have shared gut-wrenching stories of sharing classrooms with abusers, of being asked by school staff to keep quiet about allegations and other experiences they say made them feel revictimized and unsafe at school.
“We’ve heard dozens of horror stories … specifically about not just the sexual assault but how it was handled when the school found out about it, and how invasive and retraumatizing the process was,” Ballard High School junior Nicoló Potesta told Seattle Times reporter Monica Velez.
In Bellevue, Newport High School officials responded to a student walkout last month by locking down the school and expelling five students, stating it was done on an “emergency basis.” On Monday, hearings began to determine whether those expulsions will stand, said spokesperson Janine Thorn. Thorn said the district intends to hold listening sessions with students and parents, but those plans are still in the works.
The Seattle school district is updating its sexual assault policy and procedures based on a task force’s recommendations, but the school board does not expect to review the new policy until April. In the meantime, district and school administrators should review the students’ complaints, particularly allegations that school officials did not respond appropriately, and take immediate action where they can.
This is not the first time students have raised concerns. Just last year, a former Ballard High School student sued the school district, claiming that the school failed to protect her from “reasonably foreseeable dangers” after she was assaulted by a fellow student in a school bathroom in March 2018. A 2015 task force made recommendations for staff training, sex education and other improvements that echo student demands and the latest task force’s recommendations.
This latest policy revision will only be as effective as district follow-through. School leaders should prove their commitment to safeguarding the health and well-being of students by moving as quickly as possible. Students in Seattle, Bellevue and other school districts should settle for nothing less.
FOR HELP, call the 24-hour National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-HOPE (800-656-4673). In King County, call the Sexual Assault Resource Center’s 24-hour Resource Line at 888-99-VOICE (888-998-6423) or visit kcsarc.org/get-help-now.