(Updated 10/25/21 at 9:50 a.m.) Hundreds of students walked out of their classrooms this morning to take a stand against sexual assault and harassment in Arlington Public Schools.
Walkouts were held from 11 a.m. to noon at Yorktown, Washington-Liberty, Wakefield high schools, H-B Woodlawn Secondary Program, and Arlington Career Center. The Yorktown walkout — held just two weeks after reports that a group of students yelled inappropriate sexual language and touched a fellow student inappropriately at a football game — trekked from the campus to nearby Chestnut Hills Park for a rally, then returned.
“It was so amazing to see so many people come out,” YHS student body president Sebastian Morales-Talero tells ARLnow. “Seeing them come out gave me hope that things will be better and that we can change as a community.”
He said another organizer was in tears over the show of support from fellow students.
During a speech by Scotney Young, a social worker and sexual assault prevention specialist for local nonprofit Doorways, many students raised their hands to indicate they’ve experienced sexual violence or know someone who has.
“It was really powerful to see so many students using their voices and actions to speak out against sexual violence and to demand more action from school administrators,” Young tells ARLnow. “Sexual violence thrives when there is a culture and system that allows and accepts it, and these students were saying they want to change that.”
Young said she conducts educational programming focused on giving young people the tools they need to have “respectful, safe and supportive relationships and interactions free from violence.”
Today’s protests were tied to similar ones at schools nationwide, according to School Talk emails APS sent to high school families last night (Thursday). In his email to families, Yorktown Principal Kevin Clark connected the walkout to the Homecoming game.
“While we do not have additional details about this activity, we understand that this is to raise awareness about the issue of sexual assault and harassment and ensuring appropriate responses,” Clark said. “While we know of recent events at the Yorktown Homecoming Football game, there have also been similar walkouts at other schools across the country recently.”
During half-time, a handful of YHS students allegedly used “inappropriate and unacceptable language of a sexual nature and inappropriately touched a student,” Clark wrote to students and families two weeks ago. A report of sexual battery was filed with Arlington County Police Department.
In an email sent last Friday, Clark provided an update on the investigations into the verbal harassment and inappropriate touching.
“We have concluded the investigation into the incident involving harassing language and are continuing to investigate the reported inappropriate touching, as the responsible party has not been identified. We have also established robust plans for upcoming events,” he said. “This is an important time to reflect on what is important, who we are, and how we can all contribute to a positive, inclusive, and safe school community.”
Near Wakefield High School, a long line of students could be seen streaming down Four Mile Run Drive, per videos sent to ARLnow. Students carried signs such as “Stop Defending the Perpetrators” and an organizer shouted to the crowd, “These victims are still valid. Consent needs to be taught in schools,” to cheers from the participants.
@ARLnowDOTcom Wakefield Highschool student walk out and hold rally at Barcroft Park. pic.twitter.com/rSHVFCupbC
— Janet Smith (@Planet_of_Janet) October 22, 2021
The School Talk emails to parents of each high school emphasized that while the event was not school-sanctioned, the schools support civic engagement. The letters also listed resources for those experiencing sexual violence.
Per an email from Washington-Liberty High School:
We encourage students’ interest in expressing their ideas and opinions and standing up against violence and harassment of all forms. We also want to ensure parents/guardians are aware that this is not a school-sponsored activity. W-L student attendance will be marked as excused-protest day with a note from a guardian/parent verifying their attendance in the protest. Please contact W-L Attendance… if you need to provide a note for your child.
If you decide it is okay for your student to participate, please remind them to practice good decision making. While we encourage civic engagement, we want to make every effort to keep them safe and to minimize disruptions in instruction and other school activities.
We have very clear protocols in place regarding how to report incidents of violence or harassment at school. When a student reports an incident of violence or harassment of any form, the school takes immediate actions to investigate and hold those responsible accountable for their actions.
- Project PEACE
- Doorways for Women & Families: Hotline and Counseling, 24/7 Hotline: 703-237-0881
- Child Advocacy Center: Resources and Support
- Rainn Online Hotline & Educational Info
- Love is Respect Online Hotline & Educational Info
- Know Your IX
Jay Westcott contributed to this report
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