Students protest school’s response to abuse allegations

About+50+students+walked+out+of+class+fourth+period+today+to+protest+what+they+called+the+school%27s+insufficient+response+to+sexual+abuse+and+harassment+allegations.

Photo by Brooke Scanlon

About 50 students walked out of class fourth period today to protest what they called the school’s insufficient response to sexual abuse and harassment allegations.

More than 50 students walked out of class today to protest Baldwin’s response to sexual assault allegations, a topic that had spread widely on social media over the weekend.

Students gathered in front of the main office starting at fourth period, and the protest continued through fifth. 

Some members of the crowd shared their own stories and experiences with sexual assault and harassment. There were numerous topics discussed at the protest, including men also being assaulted and the importance of consent and boundaries. 

“There is a clear separation between the words `no’ and `yes.’ However, it seems there are people in this world who do not understand that no means no,” one of the protest organizers said. 

The students also expressed their anger toward the way that Baldwin has handled sexual assault allegations in the past, and maintained that support systems at school are not up to par.

Some protesters said the district does not believe victims as much as it should, and that this is detrimental to the mental health of the victims.

Most of the audience paid respectful attention. But there were a few small incidents, including some members of the crowd laughing and joking. The leaders of the protest confronted those students and told them to leave. The student organizers also stressed that students who were only there to miss class were not welcome.

Earlier in the day, Supt. Dr. Randal Lutz sent an email to the school community regarding the social media posts from the weekend.

“The Baldwin-Whitehall School District was recently made aware of social media posts and an online petition related to allegations of a sexual assault involving two Baldwin High School students,” Lutz said in the email. “From what we know at this point, the incident reportedly occurred in 2019, with the high school administration being notified in June of 2020. The incident did not occur on District grounds, or at any District-related event and was being investigated by the family and local law enforcement.”

“The social media posts along with an online petition have raised considerable concern about how the matter was handled this week.  Some of the comments have indicated similar concern in regard to how other issues were handled as well,” Lutz wrote.

The district will have those concerns investigated by an outside party, he said.

“The Board of School Directors and I have authorized an independent review of the matter, as well as other concerns about the administrative response that have been brought to our attention.  That review will begin immediately,” Lutz said.

At the beginning of second period, Principal Shaun Tomaszewski addressed all students.

I want every single student, faculty member, and staff member to know that I am committed to listening to your stories and respecting your truths, in situations related to sexual violence or any other concerns that you might have,” Tomaszewski said.

“I have learned many things in the past few days. I have learned how incredibly supportive BHS students are of one another and how they rally in powerful solidarity,” Tomaszewski said. 

“I have learned that there are historical wounds caused by and grievances against our school. I promise you that all of these will be looked into and properly investigated,” he said. “And lastly, I have learned that we need to do a better job of establishing an open and supportive environment where students don’t just feel, but know and most importantly trust that they are seen, heard, and respected.”