Dozens of Heritage High School students walked out of class Friday in solidarity with a classmate who alleges school administration has turned a blind eye to bullying, harassment and sexual assault on campus.
Charles Chandler, 17, was barred from participating in graduation after he veered off-script in a speech he gave to an assembly on Wednesday.
“And to you underclassmen, who have to endure all the things the school will throw at you for two or three more years, a school where the administration closes their eyes to everything that happens in the school,” he said. “The sexual assault, the bullying, the depression, the outcasts, and they do nothing to fix it.”
In a letter to parents sent Thursday, Principal Derek Garrison said Chandler’s speech was full of “inaccuracies, inflammatory statements and unsubstantiated accusations.” He said administrators met with him to discuss “several options for a restorative resolution,” or else he would be unable to walk at Saturday’s ceremony.
“After considering the options, he opted to not participate in graduation,” Garrison wrote.
Students donned pink shirts for the Friday walkout. Some painted pink handprints across their faces, and others carried signs bearing slogans like “We are the change” and “Let Charles walk.”
Some students at the school praised Chandler for standing up for what they see as continued tolerance of bullying and harassment at the Evergreen Public Schools campus.
Frost Honrath, 17, said she twice reported being physically assaulted by another student, but felt the district’s response was insufficient.
“I really want to see action in our school,” Honrath said. “They’re pushing it aside.”
Ethan Wheeler, 17, said a student once wrapped a noose, a prop from a play, around his neck and told him to kill himself. When he tried to get help, “it seemed like nothing was really done.”
Still, Wheeler said he’s grateful for the chance to demonstrate.
“The main intention is strictly to get our voices out,” he said.
Some students gathered had a different take. Vanessa Campos, 18, said that while she appreciates the point Chandler was making, the way he did it wasn’t appropriate.
“The way he said things and what he did was not the right place or time,” Campos said.
Amy Rodriguez, 18, said she feels like Chandler’s accusations took away from the celebratory nature of the event.
“I want this to be a time of celebration,” she said. She added that she feels like teachers are taking the issues of sexual assault and bullying against students seriously, and that there would have been better ways for Chandler to raise his concerns.
Chandler’s speech has gone viral, with local and national media picking up his story. At the demonstration Chandler, clad in a pink T-shirt, darted from interview to interview with local reporters. Chandler said that at this point, the goal is not to see his right to walk be reinstated. It’s to demonstrate to the school that students are demanding change.
“We shouldn’t be silenced, because this is a real problem,” Chandler said.
Students who walked out of class will be marked unexcused, district spokeswoman Gail Spolar said, but the district is unlikely to take further action.
“We try not to be punitive in our response to students missing class, and this instance will be no different,” she said by email.