Dozens of students at Kelowna Secondary School streamed out of the building on Thursday, protesting what they say is a weak response to complaints of sexual assault.
“Today I’m protesting because I want School District 23 to make their schools safe,” said one of the KSS protest organizers.
“I want people who have assaulted various people at our schools to be held accountable and I want schools to take better care of their students and make us feel safe again.”
While Global News did get parental consent to interview the student, the student’s name is being withheld due to the allegations made.
The student, who uses they/ them pronouns, said they are a victim of a sexual assault, and, despite a complaint being made to RCMP last November and the school’s administration, they had to continue in class with the student for months.
When they and others saw a protest about a similar matter at a nearby high school just days earlier, it offered the incentive they needed to organize a similar movement.
“We were planning on doing a protest, but we were like, ‘Well, we could get in trouble. What if the police show up?'” they said.
However, the student said they received support from the school, as long as the protest was peaceful.
“That was amazing. I was so glad when they said that,” they said. “I was so happy that they were supporting us.”
They and others with them said they were proud to also receive support from other students, but, more importantly, they want to see systemic change.
“I want to see schools change in how they deal with things like this,” they said.
“I want to see people care. I want to see things be dealt with the way they should be instead of just brushing it under the rug and pretending like it didn’t happen.”
Several of the students at the protest said they’d been approached by the school to meet with district officials, and give ideas about what could be done to ensure safer spaces for all, starting from an earlier age.
Some of the topics they plan to discuss are what are “safe touches” and “unsafe touches” and how to accept that “no” does mean “no.”
Until then, however, another student said they were glad to see a mixed turnout of young men and women.
“Having male support here as well is really huge because the stereotype, they don’t support us they’re gonna be the same as everybody else,” the student, who also uses they/them pronouns, said.
“But they’re here and they’re supporting and ultimately everybody knows that it’s a problem. “
Central Okanagan Public Schools superintendent Kevin Kaardal said the school district supports student voices that bring awareness to creating a culture of consent.
“We have sexual health teachers that spend significant time teaching this to our students,” Kaardal said. “When a school is made aware of an allegation, in every case, we follow our district protocol that was jointly developed with the Elizabeth Fry Society and the RCMP.
“In every case, we take action and report the allegation to the RCMP. We focus on ensuring a safe school environment for all students, provide services, including counselling and connections to outside agencies. We will not comment on specific actions or specific claims for the privacy and protection of all involved.”
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