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Kent high school students stage walkout, protest

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Posted at 5:36 PM, Dec 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-10 19:29:17-05

KENT, Ohio — A group of about two dozen students staged a walkout Friday afternoon at Kent Roosevelt High School to protest what they describe as instances of sexual harassment on campus. Kent City Schools Superintendent George Joseph, however, adamantly denied the allegations, saying in a statement that the district has followed school board policy — as well as state and federal law — in ensuring complete investigations.

The group of students walked out of class at noon on Friday after days of discussions on social media. The students gathered near the parking lot of the high school. One by one, students took turns telling personal stories of alleged harassment and frustration with actions taken by the district.

Freshman Matilda Sabin had the full support of her family in participating in the demonstration.

“I need to speak out for what’s right. I need to make sure that people understand that sexual harassment is not okay, especially when you’re supposed to trust the faculty members,” Sabin said. “They teach us that from a young age that you are supposed to be able to trust your teachers if something is happening to you.”

The protest was largely sparked by a student’s recent online post that quickly spread via group chats and on social media. The student, who wanted to remain anonymous, alleged that she was the victim of sexual harassment and, later, retaliation by a faculty member.

News 5 has not been able to independently verify the student’s account. A Kent Police Department spokesperson said that no report has been filed related to the student’s allegations.

Skylar Urban, a Roosevelt HS alum that graduated in 2016, said it is common for students to forgo filing a police report.

“The fact that there have been this many students that have been willing to come forward with their story just shows me that there are so many more that are not coming forward,” Urban said.

Urban said she was the target of unwanted touching and sexual harassment by several classmates while she was in school.

Nearly two years ago, a faculty member of the high school came under scrutiny after allegations surfaced that he had exchanged inappropriate messages with a former student that had already graduated. The teacher remained on administrative leave pending the outcome of the investigation, which concluded in late February 2020. The district determined the faculty member did not violate district policy. Additionally, police said the faculty member’s conversations with the former student, who was 19 at the time, were consensual.

Superintendent Joseph provided News 5 with the following statement.

“The Kent City School District has been made aware of a student using social media to organize a ‘walkout’ of Theodore Roosevelt High School today due to the student asserting that the District has not taken allegations of inappropriate conduct seriously. In actuality, however, when made aware of the allegations, the District followed Board Policy as well as Federal and State laws in ensuring that full, complete and thorough investigations were conducted, and appropriate steps were taken to address the concerns.

"The District is always willing to listen to our students, our community’s most treasured asset and also the foundation for our purpose. Kent City Schools strives to ensure students have the opportunity to learn in a safe, harassment-free environment that encourages inquiry, critical thinking, and the desire for life-long learning. We believe these abilities are fundamental to improving the quality of our students' lives, today and in the future.”

The demonstration was peaceful and Kent police officers were on scene just as a precaution.