A crowd of Squalicum High School students walked out of classes Monday in protest of three Bellingham Public Schools assistant principals who were criminally cited last week for failing to report the sexual assaults of a student.
Squalicum High School assistant principals Jeremy G. Louzao and Meghan V. Dunham, and Bellingham High School assistant principal Maude Chimere Hackney were charged with failure to report, a gross misdemeanor, police announced on Dec. 7.
Bellingham Public Schools Superintendent Greg Baker said in a district release on Dec. 9 that the staff members “are continuing to work for our district in their normal capacity, and they have our support to do so.”
Walk-out organizers took turns speaking during the peaceful protest of hundreds of students. The last speaker asked for a show of hands of people who knew a victim of sexual assault, and nearly everyone in the crowd raised their hands, a witness reported. The protest turned heated when the students were asked to disperse shortly before noon Monday.
“There’s obviously students at Squalicum who do good things, that are impressive, that work hard, but then for our reputation to be seen as just our admin treating our students horribly and not doing their jobs correctly — it takes away from the recognition that students should be getting for the amazing things we’re doing,” Squalicum student Regan Andersen told Cascadia Daily News.
The students asked for accountability and follow-through from the administration. They called attention to no-contact forms, which they said have not been respected.
Walk-out organizers Jasmine Olivas, Ethan Odegaard, Annika Skelton and Evan McDevitt said they found out about the criminal citations on Friday from a Bellingham Herald article. From there, students wrote speeches, gathered stories and planned for the protest to happen Monday morning.
“We had a protest because we wanted to spark change. Our admin hasn’t really been supportive toward students,” said Keston Ellers, Squalicum student and member of the associated student body. “When we ask them for help on anything, they’re hesitant and avoidant.”
In January, a female student reported to Louzao that a male student had assaulted her in November and December 2021. Louzao, who was, at the time, a dean of students, told the victim a safety agreement would be put in place.
The male student violated the safety agreement four days later, police said. When the victim reported the violation of the agreement to Dunham, who was also a dean of students at the time, it was found the safety agreement had not been completed, according to police.
Bellingham Public Schools Assistant Director of Communications Dana Smith said there are different types of safety plans that Bellingham Public Schools uses, and many of them are voluntary. If students enter a voluntary safety agreement, it is maintained at the school level and monitored by building-level administrators, Smith said.
Some safety plans are more formal and can be enforced by the school’s disciplinary processes if the victim has obtained a civil protection order from the courts, or if there is an investigation underway or completed.
Louzao, Dunham, and Hackney did not report the sexual assaults until the victim reported the crime to law enforcement on Feb. 2, according to Bellingham police.
The district’s Executive Director of Communications and Community Relations Jacqueline Brawley, Director of Student Services Keith Schacht and former Bellingham High School Principal Steve Clarke were monitoring the scene Monday.
Squalicum High School Principal Miquel Perez released a statement to families on Monday, and said an additional three to five staff and administrators would be supporting the school each day this week, including mental health staff and a student safety specialist.
“Student voice is very important, and students expressed serious concerns today. We will continue to work with our students to listen to their concerns, support them and connect them with law enforcement and other organizations when appropriate,” Perez said in the statement.
Organizers said they spoke with administration and plan to have future meetings and conversations on the topic.
He cited three steps the school would take to address student concerns: continuing to meet with the student organizers, bringing in local victim advocacy agencies, and meeting with local victim advocacy representatives and law enforcement to improve staff training.
“We share students’ concerns and the need for all students to feel safe at school and in the community, and we are proud of them when they advocate for what is important to them, even if it is difficult to hear,” Perez stated.
This story was updated at 4:37 p.m. Dec. 12 with additional information from the district.