VANCOUVER, Wash. (KOIN) — Students at Heritage High School in Vancouver walked out Friday morning to support a senior who is being barred from walking at graduation after he spoke out about claims of bullying and sexual assault.
Senior Charles Chandler said school officials punished him after he gave a speech at a so-called “Moving Up” assembly on Wednesday.
Video of the speech shows Charles wearing his cap and gown while standing at a podium with a microphone.
“Through the years of high school, you will realize you can only count on yourself,” he says. “You will get made fun of. You will walk through these halls and get called ‘stupid,’ ‘ugly,’ an ‘idiot,’ a ‘piece of crap’ and so many, many more insults.”
Charles goes on to talk specifically about Heritage High School administration.
“To you underclassmen who have to endure the things the school throws at you for 2 or 3 more years, a school where the administration closes their eyes to everything that happens in the school; the sexual assault, the bullying, the depression, the outcasts — and they do nothing to fix it. They just cast it aside like it’s nothing, or if they do take notice they take the side of the accused and not the victim. And I feel sorry for you.”
The speech ends shortly after that statement, to cheers and applause.
Following his speech, Charles was barred from walking at graduation on Saturday. He said the decision feels like punishment for bringing light to a serious problem.
About 200 students and adults showed their support Friday, holding up signs and chanting outside the school.
“This is amazing, all of the support and love we have from everybody, a lot of people are in tears right now,” student Jamie Davis said. “It’s really heartwarming.”
Charles told KOIN 6 News during the walkout that it’s not about him walking, “it’s about causing change.”
“It’s heart-warming because people are finally having their voices heard,” he said.
Some students disagreed with Charles stance on the lack of action on bullying at the school.
“People get bullied, sexual assault exists — it happens but I just want to say that our staff, the people’s whose job it is to take care of things, they do their job,” senior Keyler Struthers said.
Senior Amy Rodriguez said she’s always felt like she can talk to counselors or administrators.
Heritage High School Principal Derek Garrison issued the following statement to parents:
Supporters of the senior also took to social media with #LetCharlesWalk.