At 7:40 a.m. on Wednesday, a group of Centralia High School students and staff went to the commons instead of their first period classes with the intent to stay there until the school administration addressed student reports of sexual harassment and sexual assault allegedly happening within the school’s halls.
Students organized the walkout the day before, after an administrator reportedly talked over students who stood up during an assembly to ask what the school was doing about students’ reports of sexual harassment, a student told The Chronicle.
“We have gone to (the administrator) to talk about being harassed in the hallway countless times and nothing ever happens,” said a Centralia High School senior who participated in the walkout.
Principal Josue Lowe sent out an email to students and parents early Wednesday morning informing them of students’ harassment concerns and the planned walkout.
“We are writing to ensure all our students and parents that we take first hand reports of this nature very seriously and take the necessary time to fully investigate these reports to a logical, determined conclusion,” said Lowe in the email, adding, “Please understand that any inaction is perceived and not the actual reality.”
While Lowe said the administration was “sympathetic” and understood students’ concerns, “our foremost concern is assuring student safety and their well being when students leave class in large groups. We are also concerned with the disruption of the educational process. ”
The walkout was not school-sanctioned and “students will be subject to disciplinary action if behaviors are unsafe or disrupt the educational process,” said Lowe.
Walkout participants spent the morning sitting in a circle in the commons and about 40 students shared their experiences with sexual assault, both on and off campus.
Assistant Principal Mike Stratton reportedly sat with the group, listened to their stories and took notes.
Most of the group reportedly dispersed at lunch at 11 a.m., with some returning to the commons to continue the walkout after lunch.
While participants were encouraged not to be loud and disruptive, some reported harassment and unruly behavior that occurred during the walkout. One student reportedly hijacked the sound system to play inappropriate music, while another student told The Chronicle other students had verbally threatened to hurt him.
The Centralia School District is in the process of investigating the reports of sexual assault and sexual harassment that sparked the walkout, along with additional harassment reports that were filed immediately after the walkout, said Superintendent Lisa Grant.
“We take the safety of our students very seriously,” said Grant.
The school district is working with community resources to prepare education for students around how to identify and report sexual harassment and how to handle a sexual harassment situation, Grant said.
Lowe told parents and students Centralia High School will discuss issues surrounding harassment in the coming weeks and will explore schoolwide education and awareness on the topic. He also said students will get time to share their thoughts and concerns about sexual harassment both in and outside Centralia High School.
“That being said, there are other ways students can express themselves without putting themselves at risk; we hope that we will be able to teach them more productive avenues of expression,” he said.