San Francisco students walk out to protest handling of sexual misconduct

‘Harassment has no place in our schools’

Several hundred high school students from across The City walked out of class Friday, gathering at City Hall and district headquarters to demand changes in the way sexual misconduct was being handled in the school system.

Students from about a dozen high schools came armed with a series of demands to administrators: create a support system for survivors; institute a safe reporting process; establish consequences for perpetrators, even if an incident occurred off school sites; and provide transparency around federal rights under Title IX.

A federal civil rights law passed as part of the Education Amendments of 1972, Title IX prohibits sex-based discrimination in any school or other education program that receives federal money.

At the sometimes somber gathering, students shared their experiences of sexual assault and harassment and complained about the lack of accountability from school administrators and how that affected their abilities to learn. They emphasized sexual assault and misconduct are issues that affect men as well as women and LGBTQ folks in particular.

High school students sit for 10 minutes of silence in front of the San Francisco Unified School District office during a walkout over the way officials handle sexual harassment and assults. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

High school students sit for 10 minutes of silence in front of the San Francisco Unified School District office during a walkout over the way officials handle sexual harassment and assults. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

“I am still in the same class as my assaulter and continue to leave (skip) that class every single day,” said Reesa, a senior. “I have told administrators so much how difficult it is to be in the same class as him. I’m losing my education. That person isn’t losing their education. You should be protecting me,” said Reesa, whose last name is withheld to protect her privacy.

Some students also said they had suffered inappropriate comments and behavior from teachers.

Recent high school protests began last month at Ruth Asawa School of the Arts, where theater students complained about a regular practice that had them changing clothes openly before class, which led to alleged harassment. This was followed by protests at three other high schools in the district over responses to sexual misconduct. Despite these efforts, students said they’d seen little or no effort from the district to take their accusations seriously, which resulted in a larger protest effort.

“After the walkout we held it was like a domino effect,” said Daniela Oropeza, a senior at SOTA who organized the school’s protest. “It’s so monumental because it’s a group effort and it’s actually getting (officials’) attention. That was also a goal, student unity.”

In a letter to middle- and high-schoolers on Thursday, San Francisco School District (SFUSD) Superintendent Vincent Matthews and Office of Equity Executive Director Keasara Williams said they were proud of students protesting and committed to taking action.

San Francisco high school students demonstrate in front of City Hall. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

San Francisco high school students demonstrate in front of City Hall. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

The district said it was committed to hiring another investigator in the Office of Equity to review complaints and counsel students, as well as school site administrators. The office will also convene an advisory group on sexual harassment starting in the spring. It will examine issues raised by students, create more resources for students, review curriculum and craft a survey about experiences students have had with sexual harassment.

SFUSD also committed to continuing professional development for staff on sexual harassment prevention, investigation and appropriate responses.

“Sexual harassment has no place in our schools,” wrote Matthews and Williams, in the letter. “SFUSD is committed to taking all appropriate steps to make sure we educate, prevent and address any incidents of sexual harassment that occur in our schools. We also want students to know they have a safe place to share incidents that occur outside our schools and we work with city and community partners to provide support.”

The letter outlined legal constraints around Title IX, which mandates schools respond to sexual misconduct allegations. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos, under the Trump administration, narrowed the definition of sexual misconduct on campus, which survivor advocates argued weakened protections for students with allegations. The rules are under review by the Biden administration, which in July affirmed Title IX-included prohibition against discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

San Francisco high school students demonstrate in front of City Hall during a walk out. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

San Francisco high school students demonstrate in front of City Hall during a walk out. (Craig Lee/The Examiner)

Even as organizers are digesting the letter, they say it’s just words unless there is something to show for it.

“We’re not going to believe it until something happens,” said Amalya Salamo, a SOTA student and one of the protest’s main organizers. “It’s just really powerful to see that so many people are united. We’re hoping this will make a big statement. But this is just the beginning of our movement.”

imojadad@sfexaminer.com

The downturn persists

Examiner analysis reveals that San Francisco’s economy has a long road to recovery

Local startup raises billions of dollars to reverse the aging process

Fountain of Youth firm will start with mice, is Jeff Bezos next?