KALAMA, Wash. (KOIN) — Dozens of students at Kalama High School walked out of class Monday morning after a transgender student was assaulted in the school’s halls and subsequently treated in the hospital.
Students say, another student repeatedly kicked the transgender student, who identifies as male, with steel-toe boots.
“The student had been on the ground, begging him to stop and he just kept going,” said Katrina Rick-Mertens, a sophomore at the school.
The assault technically happened after school hours, just as students were leaving for the day on Monday, June 6. The student has returned to class, according to the school district.
Shortly after the walkout occurred, the school district was put on lockdown after Kalama Police say a student made a “threat of violence” against the students walking out in support of their classmate.
Students and parents say it’s a pattern of not feeling safe at Kalama District Schools, whether it be insults, threats, or in Lillie Cierley’s experience, books, staplers, or “anything they can get their hands on” thrown at her.
Cierley and Rick-Martens say, they will inform school administrators about the bullying and are never told about anything being done about the incidents, only to see the bullying continue.
“It’s just really heartbreaking to not be taken seriously when our lives are at stake,” Cierley says.
Cierley and her mother, Melissa, text every hour to ensure she is safe. Melissa Cierley says she had to do that after a group of boys would yell at her daughter, using language she describes as sexual harassment.
“There’s a certain population that seems to be able to get away with whatever they want,” Melissa Cierley said.
The perceived silence is what has parents like Cierley concerned, and their children fed up with school leaders.
In an interview with KOIN 6 News, Kalama School District Communications Manager Nick Shanmac says, the district is always limited in what it can share about discipline because of student privacy protections.
“You do have this frustration that it appears on the surface that not enough is being done,” Shanmac said. “There are a lot of emotions that we understand it can feel like that, it can feel like nothing is happening.”
The feeling of inaction comes as the students and parents say the bullying continues by the same students even after their actions are brought to school leadership.
In addition to transphobic actions and homophobic remarks, incidents of Nazi salutes in classrooms and locker rooms are described by students in conversations with KOIN 6 and are also prominent on social media posts on Kalama community pages.
Rick-Mertens and Lillie Cierley say they’ve repeatedly told school administrators how they have been victims.
“You’d think that after so many students go to them about hate speech and going to them that we need these bullies to stop, that they would do something. We shouldn’t have to come to this point to rally together for them to listen to us,” Rick-Mertens said.
Shanmac says, the district is working to better address student needs and says they want the school to promote a welcoming, accepting and safe environment for all students.
To that end, Kalama School District Superintendent Eric Nerison and High School Principal Heidi Bunker held a listening session with students for a better understanding of what steps the school is taking. Neither were available for an interview Monday.
One idea Shanmac says students brought up is getting a monthly report on bullying incidents to let students know it’s a priority all year, not just at the beginning with its discussed with the school’s code of conduct.
“If students are saying that they feel like this, they feel like there is a problem, then there is truth to that,” Shanmac said. “As a school, as a district, we need to be listening.”