Alleged sexual assaults cause students to leave Brunswick High School

Brunswick High School students hold signs supporting victims of sexual assault during a student walkout on May 12, 2022. Maria Skillings / Time Record.

More than 50 Brunswick High School students staged a strike early Thursday afternoon amid allegations of sexual assault at the school, and what they said was an inadequate response from the police. part of the administration.

A student said she was assaulted in September 2021 by another student on school grounds. She reported the incident to the deputy director just before winter break in December.

“They said they were investigating and were going to let my mom appeal a Title IX investigation,” the student said, referring to a federal law banning gender discrimination in education programs. “After a few months, the school started to find ways to make me feel safer at school, but it took a long time, and unfortunately, the person who did this to me is still attending this school. And continues to hurt the girls, which is disappointing.

Details of the investigation, including its outcome, could not be clarified Thursday evening.

Efforts to reach Brunswick police for comment were unsuccessful, but it does not appear that criminal charges have been filed.

Superintendent Phil Potenziano did not confirm whether an investigation was held into the alleged assault.

“We have zero tolerance for harassment, abuse or assault, and we investigate these immediately,” Potenziano said. “We have school policies that we follow. We also have services for our students in the event of a violation. In addition to this, we have partner agencies that provide support. Today, the principal and staff of the secondary school spoke to each of their groups of pupils, assuring them that people from the school, such as counselors, are available to them. »

As students shared their stories during the walkout, teachers watched and listened at the entrance to the school.

Potenziano was among those watching.

“I appreciate the way he [the walkout] was realized. The students were focused, orderly and, for the most part, passionate, and I’m proud of their self-reliance,” Potenziano said. “However, I wish the students didn’t feel the need to protest, but it’s not a simple situation. There are students who do not feel safe and uncomfortable in our school environment. This is unacceptable to the department or school, and we are committed to welcoming and creating a safe environment.

Potenziano’s comments were reiterated in a message sent Thursday afternoon to the Brunswick community. The memo outlined what the school was doing to prevent sexual assault and abuse, including partnerships with the Brunswick Police Department and Midcoast Maine Sexual Assault Support Services. “We encourage students and staff members who feel they have been mistreated to report their experiences to an administrator,” the post read in part.

The post also stated, “The Brunswick School Department follows extensive and robust policies for handling complaints of sexual harassment involving students,” before directing the reader to the school’s website for more information.

The post said the school has partnered with “to promote safe and inclusive school, campus, and organizational environments.”

An allegation of hazing during a summer retreat for the football team resulted in the head coach and several players being fired in 2021. No criminal charges have been brought following this incident as police said there was not enough evidence.

During the strike, student Esther Isuzu said she was under the impression that students reported incidents to school authorities, but nothing was done.

“That’s why we’re taking a stand today because we don’t really feel safe or heard here. I’m glad everyone is supporting him,” Isuzu said.

Brunswick students participating in an organized walkout. Maria Skillings / Time Record

Three students who said they were also sexually assaulted at school held hands and stood around the school flagpole, sharing their experiences with classmates.

“Why should we be afraid? ” we asked. “Why can’t we wear what we want to wear?”

Another said her education suffered and she felt other victims had not gotten justice. “Don’t be afraid to come forward,” she says.

Four members of Midcoast Maine Sexual Assault Support Services were there to show their support.

“It shows support for anyone who doesn’t feel safe at this school and shows that there are people who are there for them and believe them no matter what,” said chief executive Arian Clements. .

SASSMM, Sexual Assault Support Services of Midcoast Maine, came to support Brunswick High School students in their walkout to support victims of sexual assault. Sam Saucier (SASSMM Director), Arian Clements of Brunswick, Elise Martin of Brunswick and Emily McGregor of Topsham. Photo: Maria Skillings / Time Record

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Martha K. Merrill