CAMDEN – More than 100 Camden Hills Regional High School students staged a walkout Wednesday, Oct. 20, saying they do not feel safe in their school due to instances this year of sexual assault and harassment, and they say school administrators make them feel “silenced and shutdown.”

The protest against inaction on this issue by school leaders was organized by a group of students called “Valor,” and they used Instagram to drum up support for the walkout event. As part of it, students leaving the school building wore blue and teal to show support and waved signs with protest slogans.

“Screw your fake concern,” one sign said. “Hold offenders accountable,” said another.

“It’s not consent if you make her afraid to say no,” said yet another sign. “The price for my education should not be my body or my human rights.”

Many of the students who spoke at the event talked about the fear and pain of having to see the person who assaulted them while attending classes at the school. They said when they talked to administrators about the issue, instead of making the assaulter take different classes or leave the school, the victim was forced to follow a map to avoid the perpetrator.

“We’ve brought it to the principal and superintendent so many times,” said one student. “I don’t want my little sister to be scared to be here.”

“The administration has not helped me at all,” said another student. “We are here to support each other if they won’t support us.”

In an effort to deal with their concerns, the students had started writing messages on the bathroom walls concerning what had happened to them. When school leaders literally failed to heed the writing on the wall and painted over the messages, the students became angry and galvanized to action. They formed the plan for this protest to bring awareness and attention to the issue.

Principal Shawn Carlson said the allegation that the administration had not responded to complaints of sexual assault was not true. “By law we have to investigate everything,” he said.

He said students who feel not enough is being done need to contact the District Attorney’s office or the Superintendent.

“I’m completely comfortable with how we handle these situations,” he said. He added there is a due process component.

Following a procession of many students and teachers out to the track next to the school, the students walked around the track waving signs and chanting “We want justice.” A group of the Valor students made speeches on the bleachers and then another walk around the track was taken as a “victory lap.”

Superintendent Maria Libby issued a statement later in the day, saying: “Nothing could be further from the truth than to say that students are silenced and shut down when they come to us with such allegations. We take every allegation and complaint that comes our way very seriously, especially those involving sexual assault, rape, and sexual harassment. We have district policies and procedures that we are obligated to follow, based on the laws surrounding these incidents, and we adhere to them very closely. We have dealt with a couple of situations this year. We call the District Attorney’s office every time there is the potential for a sexual assault or harassment that where the perpetrator is not a family member. In the case of a family member, we would call DHHS. The DA’s office typically calls law enforcement, but we routinely are in communication with law enforcement when they are involved as well. Given that the issues are cloaked in confidentiality and we cannot share details about the incident, our findings, or disciplinary action, our school community is not aware of the inner workings of the situation. It seems that because people are unaware of what we have done, they may assume we are ignoring the situation. That is never the case. We go to great efforts to provide due process to the alleged victim and perpetrator, have no tolerance for sexual assault or harassment, and always act on the information we have to do our best to ensure a safe environment for our students. Sexual assault and harassment are serious problems in our society, as the #MeToo  movement spotlighted. The administration supported today’s peaceful walkout and student expression of activism to further heighten awareness of this important issue.”

Asked about the issue of students attending classes with their victimizers, she said: “If we know about a situation, we always separate the students (change schedules, no contact orders) so the victim does not have to be in that situation.”

Asked if students received permission for the demonstration or were disciplined for it, Libby said, “No one was disciplined.
It is more nuanced than getting permission. The student organizers and administration did meet ahead of time, so the administration knew it was planned, and the administration was supportive of their desire to express themselves in this way over this important issue. Fortunately, students have been judicious in their use of walk-outs.”

Students at Camden Hill Regional High School walk the track with signs to protest sexual assault, Oct. 20. Photo by Christine Simmonds

Protest organizers pose for pictures with their signs outside the school, Camden Oct. 20. Photo by Christine Simmonds

Students at Camden Hills Regional High School speak out against sexual assault during the Oct. 20 protest. Photo by Christine Simmonds