Hundreds of students walked out of classes Wednesday morning at McClatchy High School to protest how school administrators have dealt with sexual harassment claims at the Sacramento school, including a case involving an alleged gang rape at an off-campus party.
The student protest came three days after The Sacramento Bee reported on a former student who alleged she was gang raped by classmates in 2016 and that her claims were improperly handled by administrators and a school resource officer. She said she was asked to leave the campus for the remainder of the spring 2016 semester while her assailants were allowed to remain.
Student organizers said sexual harassment is common at the school and that they are outraged by the way cases have been handled.
"We are protesting the mishandling and the inaction on sexual assault cases, because the one that popped up in the Sac Bee is not the only one," senior Brenna Leigh Nancarrow, 17, told reporters. "We are tired of administrators telling us, 'Oh, it was a mistake' and 'You were leading him on,' or things like that. We are taking a stand and saying no more."
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About 40 students took turns using a bullhorn to tell emotional stories of sexual harassment and rape while a student held an umbrella shielding each speaker from the rain. The rapt attention of students in attendance was punctuated by the occasional "We are here for you."
Nancarrow told the crowd about a group of male students who regularly make unwanted comments to girls as they walk to their cars or to the light rail station. She complained to administrators, but they have brushed her off, she said. "I'm tired of girls saying that this is a reoccurring thing and the administration is doing nothing about it," Nancarrow said.
Another girl spoke about being left home with her mother's fiance only to have him come into her room at night and touch her inappropriately. She said the abuse continued for five years, first by him and then by his friends. It changed her life. She contacted police and other adults and wasn't helped. She started cutting school and eventually tried to overdose.
"He ruined my entire life," she said.
The Sacramento Bee is not naming her because she is a sexual assault victim.
Senior Adam Pacheco, 17, read a statement from a friend who wanted to remain anonymous. She said a boy she dated her freshman year became so violent that she had to get a restraining order. School officials promised he wouldn't be allowed on campus, but he showed up to sporting events and eventually to a dance. He hit her in the face while swinging at her male friend.
"My high school experience has been tarnished by threats and violence," she said.
Some students remained outside the school until 1:10 p.m., more than three hours after the walkout began.
Student leaders prepared a list of demands for the administration, including transparent investigations of sexual harassment that keep victims and their parents informed, a strict adherence to state and federal harassment laws, additional training for staff and clear guidelines for dealing with sexual harassment cases .
"We aren't just here for talk," Nancarrow said. "If they aren't going to take our demands we are going to the district. If the district doesn't take our demands we are going to take them to court....There are too many girls at our school, boys too, that are tired of being sexually harassed."
Sacramento City Unified spokesman Alex Barrios said the items in the request are already part of the district's policies. "Certainly, we will take any opportunity to make sure we are following our policies, procedures and protocols," he said.
District and school officials are working with student leaders to set up a meeting to discuss their list, Barrios said. "We absolutely welcome this conversation," he said. "We know this is a concern at the national, state and local level."
In the 2016 case, a student said she was at a party on May 21, 2016 when she was drugged and raped by two other McClatchy students while unconscious, according to court documents. She said a former friend helped the boys, who took a video of her passed out on the bed without pants.
Now a 19-year-old graduate, she says the district never gave her information as a 17-year-old student about her civil rights or told her she had the right to press charges against the boys. She is preparing a lawsuit now and is litigating a procedural matter with the help of Equal Rights Advocates, a civil rights organization.
The district has declined to comment due to pending litigation.
Sacramento Police Department spokesman Eddie Macaulay said the incident was investigated and no arrests were made. But he said he could not provide further details because of the pending litigation and nature of the case.
Wednesday's protest came one week after McClatchy students participated in the national school walkout to show support for victims of the Parkland, Fla., school shooting and to demonstrate against gun violence on campuses.
Last week's walkout was sanctioned by the Sacramento City Unified School District. But a McClatchy administrator warned parents Tuesday that while the school supports student rights, "normal school consequences will be in effect for unexcused absences."