This week a group of students at Medomak Valley High School staged a walk-out and protest to bring awareness to the issues of sexual assault and harassment.

Instead of listening to these students, who have legitimate concerns, and praising them for standing up for what they think is right, these school officials have chosen to retaliate against the students. Attempting to hide behind the district’s compulsory attendance policy, MVHS Principal Linda Pease is calling the time taken out for the protest “unexcused absence” and saying work from that period cannot be made up.

This is a clear attempt to hit the students back for the protest.

This leaves us asking why?

What is the purpose of education if not to create citizens who think for themselves, question what they do not think is right and have the courage to take a stand? Why is the school taking such a defensive posture?

Consider that the former principal of this very school, Andrew Cavanaugh, had to resign and faces a lawsuit in which he is accused of sexual harassing a student. There was a police investigation and he was not charged with any criminal offenses. The lawsuit alleges the young woman’s teachers complained to Assistant Principal Tamra Philbrook and then-Assistant Principal Linda Pease about Cavanaugh’s inappropriate behavior that required the teen to miss classes to meet with him in his office. Waldoboro Police looked into the situation after the student was pulled over driving a car registered to Cavanaugh.

Maybe we could give the students a few minutes off from class to voice their concerns.

This is not a precedent-setting event. We had a similar protest at Camden Hills Regional High School a short time ago. That school allowed the protests, took no retaliatory action (that we know of at this time) and even allowed the press free access to attend and report on the event at the school.

We are sure this was a trying day for staff at Camden Hills and in the larger school district. These concerns raised by our children are hard to listen to and deeply troubling.

However, this is a nation founded on the principle that people have a right to state their concerns, to peaceably assemble, and to question authority. These students are taking action and they are doing the right thing.

Parents and voters in the SAD 40 school district need to demand two things. First, they need to make sure not a single student is retaliated against in any way for this or any other peaceable protest and public statement.

Second, the community needs a public discussion about the leadership at Medomak Valley High School. This district’s administration needs to put the health and education of the students first. Let’s stop focusing on covering up or saying, “Nothing to see here.”

The youth of America continue to enjoy the right to speak truth to power.