LSHS students walkout over concerns of sexual assault

Communication Breakdown: Students watch police and students from behind the front office doors on Dec. 10. Students had confusion about lunchtime and being let back into the building on Friday. Id say it started out very positive, but then it went downhill, junior Elliot Page said.

Hailey Cordell

Communication Breakdown: Students watch police and students from behind the front office doors on Dec. 10. Students had confusion about lunchtime and being let back into the building on Friday. “I’d say it started out very positive, but then it went downhill,” junior Elliot Page said.

Friday, Dec. 10 Lake Stevens WA-LSHS students organized and conducted a walkout during second period. The walkout was dedicated as a protest against school reponses to sexual misconduct, after allegations of a male staff member entering womens’ restrooms to check for students. The allegations were investigated by the school and were deemed false.

During second period, students gathered and by the end of the day around a dozen remained in front of the east building entrance. District officials and multiple officers also were present on campus, and students in the building gathered to watch from inside from both downstairs and library windows.

During the walkout, students shared frustrations about being ignored over the school’s past and present handling of sexual assault at school.

“So, there was the topic of the school covering it up; it was the fact that it’s happening and people have been reporting stuff and nothing’s been happening,” sophomore Chone Ewell said.

Some students were surprised to learn about their peers’ experiences at Lake Stevens High school and shared their thoughts why they chose to walkout.

“As a male, I don’t really know much about sexual harrasment, but I was out there because I felt that if my female classmates thought it was an issue, I felt that I should be there too. So that’s why I was out there,” junior Elliot Chappel said. “Most of the people were talking about experiences in school in general, and it caught me off guard because I wasn’t aware so much was going on. I also was caught off guard because of how strong the police presence was.”

During the walkout, junior Camry Baggs and various other students also reported being stuck outside and unable to go back to class. Students arriving late, who were not part of the walkout, also had trouble being able to get into the building.

“At first everyone was doing their own thing, and people were trying to talk, then after first lunch they stopped letting people in,” Baggs said.

Ivelia also talked about misunderstandings from students during the walkout and the fact that she wished there had been more communication between students and staff.

“Because there’s a large group that was angry, we didn’t want to bring them in to where we cause a safety concern. We need to be able to talk things through before we assemble,” Ivelia said.

This incident, along with other incidents of sexual assult and harrassment occuring at school resulted in many students being upset. In an email to the student body, administrators stated the events of Dec. 10 were not conducive to a conversation about students’ frustrations.

“I wish they would have planned collaboratively with school administrations and personnel because there is actually district policy around doing a walkout and an organized assembly. I wish we could have been a part of supporting students,” Ivelia said. “I feel we were actually misunderstood during the process because nobody was actually leading the initiative. It was very nebulous as to who was, you know, who was driving it.”

School walkouts are protected under the Freedom of Assembly, and WA. district policies include the right for students to meet and discuss on school grounds in auditoriums or outdoors to discuss matters indirectly or directly affecting them, whether or not they are school related.

Peaceful demonstrations must be held in designated places not hazardous to other students, staff, or property, and must not disrupt learning or any other activities taking place during school.

The difference between staff recaps and student recaps from Friday caused even more misunderstandings between parties, and different stories about what happened spread from person to person.

Another issue involved is expecting students to know district policies and have an intricately organized plan in just a day can also be an unrealistic expectation. The walkout was organized the week it took place, and plans spread through platforms like Instagram and Snapchat.

“It’s that social media, although it has some positives with it, and I’ll be fair, I’m on social media, not on all the platforms you guys are, but I’m on the old people’s platforms, but it has some benefits and stuff. But unfortunately, there’s also the other side of social media where people just take it at face value and well that must be true, because 600 people shared it…it’s one of those things where perception becomes people’s reality, but unfortunately, perception is not always truth, ” Jason Pearson said.

Some students were upset that misinformation was spread on social media, as it may only serve to undermine victims and create fear when coming forward with serious allegations.

“There are several ways that a student can report to the school district or school administration; one is through the tip line. Another would be in person here in the main office. Another would be through counseling staff, through a trusted adult, through a teacher, through any of the school administration, email, telephone,” officer David Carter said.

The tip line number for LSHS is at (855) 200-5058. Carter also shared information about the steps to follow through with a report, depending on the situation and nature of the report.

“But I will say that school matters are dealt with at the school level, meaning I may not even know about it. I may not even find out about it. And that’s where one of these new laws comes into play: things that are school issues need to be handled by the school, things that are law enforcement issues should be handled by the law enforcement,” Carter said.

Reports from victims need to continue to be always taken seriously, and students should always feel in a safe position to come forward with allegations.

Sexual misconduct allegations have previously been a problem at LSHS. In 2016, the Everett Herald reported another case of accused sexual misconduct on campus. Thomas “Chris” Mattingly, who resigned in February of 2016 after an affair with a student, was “investigated at least five times for inappropriate contact with current and former students.” Five investigations and five accusations.

According to the report, and interview from district official Jayme Taylor, there was not enough evidence to fire Mattingly under state law, even though he had been disciplined at least five times for inappropriate messages with students, current and former, and for viewing inappropriate content on his school computer.

The walkout on Dec. 10 serves as a reminder of how important walkouts are to student activism, and create opportunities for students to protest and raise awareness on important issues.