Before the beginning of this school year, a 16-year-old Olympic High School student in Charlotte, NC was charged with a felony sex offense that happened off campus. Another Olympic student was arrested earlier this month and charged with a rape and kidnapping on the school campus. In late summer students across town at Myers Park High School protested against sexual assaults occurring on or near their campus.
In a recent football game, Olympic students saw one of the charged sex offenders playing in a game while wearing a court-ordered electronic tracking device, or ankle bracelet. When some students expressed outrage that the school allowed the male student to play in a game, the school held an assembly where students could speak about their concerns. Later that day some students left classes and held their own protest outside the campus. Stephanie W. Wilkerson, the school athletic director, is quoted in a local paper from her Sunday night email to a few parents, “I can assure you, the events that happened after the school approved protest were not peaceful or civil in nature.” According to the newspaper, she went on to say that “students who engaged in that form of protest that resulted in unsafe actions in the school environment and displayed complete insubordination of administrative and police directives did receive consequences.”
The consequences of which Wilkerson writes? Two female volleyball players were suspended for a game when they admitted to taking part in the un-authorized student protest. A flyer for the Olympic High protest described it as one being held for “the safety of females in our school…because many believe that the school “isn’t taking these allegations seriously.”
Wilkerson and other Olympic administrators (she is not functioning alone in such a situation) are correct to work for a safe school environment and she states that the unauthorized protest was a threat to the school because it prevented students from leaving their second block class. She is also correct in allowing the accused sex offender to play in a football game. We are a nation that supports a charged person with being innocent until proven guilty and by allowing the accused to be part of a team, the school may be helping him by keeping him involved in school. However, the school erred in suspending its volleyball players in this situation because the students were asking for what any person wants: A place where they feel safe.
The suspension is a great example of adults overreacting because the student protest, even if it caused some disruption in Olympics school day, was small when compared with two male students being charged with sexual assaults that occurred on and off the campus. Yes, the two young males are innocent until proven guilty, but their presence in the school is an implied threat to any female that disrupts the school, and the students had the Constitutional right to protest. If, as Ms. Wilkinson writes, the protest were not civil, then she and the other administrators have a great “teaching moment” in which they can assure their female students that they hear and honor their concerns.