Students walk out of South Eugene High to protest how school handles sexual assault

The students say it's in protest of how the school handles sexual assault. Eugene Police confirm they are investigating open cases of sexual assault at South Eugene High but can't give any details beyond that. (SBG)

EUGENE, Ore. - A couple hundred students walked out of South Eugene High School just after 11 Friday morning.

The students say it's in protest of how the school handles sexual assault.

Eugene Police confirm they are investigating open cases of sexual assault at South Eugene High but can't give any details beyond that.

In a letter to parents, the school principal assured they take these matters seriously.

Dear Friends and Families of South,
We hope this message finds you well. I am writing to let you know that today we were made aware of a possible student walk-out and protest during 3rd period tomorrow here at South. Based on the information we have received, the students planning the protest are attempting to raise awareness of the prevalence and devastating effect of sexual assault. We have also been made aware that some intend to join the protest due to feelings that school administration has not done enough in response to allegations of sexual assault.
Over the course of last two years we have been purposeful and focused in our attempts to elevate the importance of frank conversations about sexual assault both on campus and within the community. We have addressed the topic in a number of ways including classroom discussions, curriculum enhancements, parent workshops, and school climate initiatives. Part of our efforts have also included talk-back sessions following theater performances containing themes touching on sexual assault, increased access to on-site community partners that provide support for victims of sexual assault and training for faculty / staff to help respond to student concerns regarding unhealthy relationships. Finally, we have added staff who are to directly support an ongoing school-wide narrative about healthy communities and healthy relationships. We will continue to look for ways to better serve students and families with the goal of helping students avoid assaultive situations of any kind and welcome suggestions from members of the community. We are encouraged that so many students are committed to the similar goal of eliminating sexual assault and harassment from the student experience here at South. The only way for that to occur is if we all do what we can to ensure this is a healthy and supportive community of students, teachers and parents.
As for administration's response to allegations of sexual assault, that is a different matter all together. I hope to reassure everyone associated with this school that we take such allegations very seriously. As a result of a more open dialogue about sexual assault, we anticipate that students will be more likely to report an incident. Additionally, we anticipate an expectation of a swift response. I assure you we immediately investigate any and all allegations of sexual assault and take all necessary measures to ensure the safety of our students to the full extent which the law allows. As such incidents are also matters of legal concern, we notify the Eugene Police Department and assist them with their investigations when appropriate. If a student is determined to have violated a law or the school's code of conduct, we promptly move to ensure that no student's safety is at risk as a result. Having said this there are limits in terms of what we can say either in the midst of or following an investigation. We do, however, have the flexibility to do what we must to protect our students and that's exactly what we do. I understand that not hearing the outcome of an investigation or seeing, first hand, that some form of justice has been served leads some to question the administration's commitment to student safety. I assure you that is not the case and that we are all committed to the safety and well being of every child in this school. If you, or your student, have any information regarding an allegation of sexual assault, please do not hesitate to let us know. We will follow up on the information immediately.
As for the planned walk-out tomorrow, please know it is not a school sanctioned event and as such we will not be able to excuse absences from class for that reason. We will have campus security staff, our school resource officer and administration on site, as always, but the best way to ensure safe operation of the school is for students to be in class. Thank you for understanding in the event your student is marked as absent for that reason.
Kind Regards,
Andy Dey, Ed. D.
South Eugene High School

Dey sent a followup letter Friday afternoon.

Hello Friends and Families of South,
As referenced in last night's email message, there was a student protest today at school. The protest included students gathering at the flagpole in the front of the school and then marching around the school before congregating at the front entrance.
By most measures, the protest was a peaceful demonstration of students voicing their concerns about the epidemic of sexual violence in our society. Unfortunately, there were some who joined the protest whose primary goal was to disrupt the school in any way possible and had no apparent interest in the original intent of the effort. After meeting with the protest organizers they too were upset that the narrative of the protest was being taken over and that it seemed to be moving in a more volitile, and certainly unplanned, direction. Moving forward we will be working with the student body to determine how to best engage our students in building a strong and healthy community here at South.
While there were many students involved in the protest, there were many more in the school and in their classes. This required that all available adults were also in classes teaching and supervising those students. As a way of ensuring campus safety, our School Resource Officer called for the assistance of his fellow School Resource Officers from the other district schools who helped secure the campus and ensure classes could safely continue. There were no arrests and no one was detained in any way. There was however a false report that the officers had used pepper spray which I know personally to be untrue. I wanted to let you know why there was an increased ploice presence on campus today.
Without any doubt, the protest and the accompanying police presence was disruptive. I am sure that today's events also resulted in a number of students not feeling comfortable here. I hope you will speak with your student about today's events, determine how they feel and let us know if there is anything we can do to support their return on Monday.
As is always the case, the physical and emotional well being of your children is our highest priority. We take the responsibility very serious and appreciate your support.
Andy Dey, Ed. D.
South Eugene High School
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