Middle schoolers’ sex harassment protest escalates to fights

Education

Student-led protest took place at Roseway Heights Middle School

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — Ruth McBee is an 8th-grader at Roseway Heights Middle School in Northeast Portland. She said some girls have to put up with being sexually harassed by other students.

“Teachers will tell us things like, ‘Hey, OK, like, you know, like, tell me if it happens again, tell me,'” Ruth told KOIN 6 News. “Or they’ll be like, Hey, maybe next time walk away.’ I’ve heard the teachers say things like ‘boys will be boys.’

Roseway Heights Middle School student Ruth McBee and her father, Paxton McBee, November 15, 2021 (KOIN)

Her dad, Paxton McBee, said he’s well aware of the issues. That’s why he supported his daughter when she and some of her classmates staged a walk out this week.

“We were like, yeah,” he said. “We were like, ‘Go for it!'”

Students at Roseway Heights Middle School hold signs protesting sexual harassment, November 2021 (Paxton McBee)

But trying to bring attention to one problem caused another.

“Never in a million years did I think, like, there’s going to be people who are going to be against this,” he said.

After 1st period Tuesday morning, students gathered in front of the school in protest against sexual harassment. But other students started intimidating and harassing them.

“This one girl went up and grabbed my friend’s hair and started, like, like, punching them on the head, basically,” Ruth said.

Students at Roseway Heights Middle School hold signs protesting sexual harassment, November 2021 (Paxton McBee)

In a letter to parents sent out this week, the school’s principal said a team from the school district took a number of steps in the days that followed. Those steps include supporting students and teachers. The letter also said it will continue to ensure a safe, just school climate.

Below is the full statement from Margaret Calvert, Regional Superintendent at Portland Public Schools:

“On Tuesday, Nov. 2, there was a student-organized walkout at Roseway Heights Middle School. Once outside, the situation escalated and multiple physical altercations between students occurred. While Portland Public Schools (PPS) school and district officials continue to investigate the incident, here is what we can share:

We are aware that students at Roseway Heights Middle School have made sexual harassment allegations against other students through social media. We are also aware that students of color are sharing discriminatory experiences and targeted racist language between their peers.

As a school district, we take these types of allegations very seriously and follow our standard operating procedures (Title IX Sexual Harassment Student to Student Sex Based Discrimination and Harassment; PPS Protocols to Respond to Hate Speech). 

As we continue to investigate the incident at Roseway Heights, we want to share how we at PPS support victims of harrassment and why we believe this sort of social media activity is counter to our ability to support victims of sexual assault, and how this practice injures other members of our school communities including–and especially–communities of color. 

We are committed to supporting every member of our school communities. We do this by consistently demonstrating our commitment to students through accountability, integrity and transparency within our school communities.

Whether it’s at Roseway Heights Middle School or any PPS school, we will know we’ve succeeded when students feel safe coming forward, when they feel heard and when they are confident they will be treated with respect, regardless of any specific outcome, which also extends to those who are accused. We also will know we’ve succeeded when students of color feel a stronger sense of belonging in their school communities.” 

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