Members of the Aberdeen High School Gay-Straight Alliance (GSA) started a dialogue with the school superintendent on Friday after a week in which they protested because they say that school administrators and teachers have not done enough to address a culture of harassment at the hands of some students.
Students in the group said they were harassed, called names and had food thrown at them during a lunch-time protest just outside the school this month.
Last week, they said, in light of the ruckus, some GSA students reported feeling too unsafe to return to class. Those students were kept isolated in a room in the school until they were later given the choice of staying isolated, returning to class, or being excused for the day.
On Dec. 20, they were given the option of going to class or receiving excused absences for the day, they said.
School Superintendent Alicia Henderson met with some of the student leaders of the alliance Dec. 20 and with Jen Gillies, president of Out and Proud Grays Harbor Coalition, a nonprofit that advocates for the LGBT community.
Henderson “made us feel like she was going to deal with the concerns at hand, and she did make us feel listened to and heard,” said GSA President Tyler Masterson, a 17-year-old senior.
Henderson said she plans to continue conversations with the students after the holiday break.
Masterson said some recent incidents of harassment spurred the protests.
Masterson said there was a protest Dec. 18 before school, then again at the first and second lunch periods. He said the one during the second lunch was when a large crowd of students formed, some of them mocking the protesters and others shouting insults. In one video, a protester can be seen dodging something apparently thrown at her. Masterson said some students threw things such as carrot sticks or paper garbage in their direction.
The GSA students said the school’s principal, Sherri Northington, was present during the protests and didn’t step in to stop the harassment. They added that they didn’t see the Aberdeen Police Department’s school resource officer at the protests.
Northington referred questions to the superintendent’s office. In response to a Daily World email that asked specifically about her presence and response, Northington said it’s not her practice to comment on ongoing “student situations.”
Gillies was openly critical of the principal, saying Northington “has failed these kids.”
Aberdeen Police Department resource officer Bob Green said he attended the protest during the first lunch, and that he didn’t see anyone throwing items or making threats. No one reported any threats to Green as a result of the incident, he said. There is no active police investigation and he took no report of crimes that might have occurred, he said.
Henderson said that since she was not present for the protest, she couldn’t comment on the student allegations. She added that Northington was conducting the school’s investigation.
Although the GSA students were excused from classes Dec. 20 if they wished to be, Henderson said she arranged for an at-risk youth counselor to be at school in a dedicated room to talk with and supervise students who did come to school.
Dec. 18, Northington told GSA students to walk in pairs to the school parking lot out of concern for their safety, according to Masterson.
Out and Proud hosted a public LGBT youth community forum Sunday, Dec. 22 at Events on Emerson in Hoquiam in response to the situation at AHS this week.
The district has a published policy and procedure for the prohibition of harassment, intimidation and bullying. Masterson said he followed the procedure and submitted an incident report form for a prior incident when he was a sophomore, but received no response.
The policy prohibits discrimination on the basis of “race, color, religion, ancestry, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, including gender expression or identity, mental or physical disability, or other distinguishing characteristics.”
Masterson said the GSA went to high school administrators in October and proposed a suicide prevention assembly to increase awareness of the effects of harassment on the LGBT community, but it was not approved. He said that’s because administrators were concerned that it would set GSA members up for trouble from other students.
Masterson said the GSA is a school-approved organization but, despite requests, it hasn’t been given a dedicated meeting place or a permanent faculty adviser.
As a result of the meetings with Henderson, the district has agreed to ensure that the GSA has a dedicated meeting space and consistent faculty adviser.