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Yorktown student petition about sexual misconduct grabs attention of administration

Students listen to a speaker during a walkout from Yorktown High School (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

A petition calling on Arlington Public Schools to ramp up education on sexual misconduct and healthy relationships has netted more than 31,000 signatures.

The petition targets Yorktown High School, where in October a homecoming football game was marred by “unacceptable behavior” by a group of students. Several Yorktown students reportedly harassed fellow students with sexual language, and one student told police she was inappropriately touched.

These events in part sparked walkouts at YHS and other high schools in APS across the county a few weeks later.

“To put in plainly, Yorktown has a problem with sexual misconduct,” said the petition authors, who are members of the Teen Network Board, a county- and APS-appointed teen advocacy group. “We are two of many concerned students who want to change the way the system works to handle issues such as sexual harassment and assault in schools.”

The student authors propose introducing two prevention and awareness programs at Yorktown, and possibly throughout APS. They call on YHS to “hold students accountable for their actions in schools” and to make reporting sexual assault and harassment to administrators easier.

As of Tuesday morning, more than 31,600 people had signed the petition. In an update to the petition on Friday, the authors said exceeding 20,000 signatures was “absolutely amazing,” as their initial goal was around 1,000-2,000 signatures.

In the update, the authors said they were meeting with Yorktown administrators Monday (yesterday) to discuss implementing their proposals at YHS. They said they reached out to Superintendent Francisco Durán and the School Board to discuss making the changes at a county level.

“Arlington Public Schools is aware of the petition, and we fully support and stand with our students against sexual harassment and assault in our schools and community,” Durán said in a statement sent to ARLnow. “We are also open and committed to the exploration of additional ways we can support students at Yorktown High School, and across the division.”

Together, APS and Yorktown staff and student members of the Teen Network Board will review current practices and consider their recommendations, as well as any additional steps needed to ensure every student feels safe, accepted and respected at school, he said.

Specifically, the petition recommends introducing Coaching Boys into Men and safeBAE. The first is a prevention-based education program for male athletes in which coaches educate players on how to have healthy relationships and be leaders in the community. The second would “spread awareness” about sexual misconduct and healthy relationships to the general student body.

“A lot of sexual misconduct in schools is caused by ignorance; often students don’t know what they’re doing is wrong. Education is key in preventing assault and harassment,” the petition said. “We want to make our community a safe and positive place for all students.”

Currently, Yorktown partners with several outside educational and advocacy organizations, such as Doorways and Project PEACE, that target intimate partner violence, according to Durán. The school holds assemblies to educate and support students and the Students Against Sexual Assault Club works to de-stigmatize and educate their peers about sexual assault.

He affirmed that Yorktown follows APS policy and procedures for responding to reported incidents of harassment or assault. He said all complaints are followed up on “with appropriate actions to prevent the behavior from happening again and provide the needed supports to students.”

“We encourage students to report incidents to a teacher, counselor, administrator or parent,” he said. “If a Yorktown student does not feel comfortable reporting in person, we encourage them to use the anonymous Student Safety Reporting form found on the Yorktown homepage.”

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