Our View: Serious claims require swift action
Last week, several parents addressed the Steamboat Springs School Board to raise concerns about what they claim is a “negative culture” at Steamboat Springs High School where female students don’t feel comfortable reporting instances of sexual assault or harassment and don’t believe their concerns are being heard. This is extremely troubling, and these allegations need to be thoroughly investigated and addressed immediately.
The claims were made in front of a new school board, which was meeting for the first time since the November election. The board members — three of them new to elected office — listened to the remarks, which were made during public comment, but did not directly respond to the concerns as is protocol. Reporters’ questions were deferred to Superintendent Brad Meeks, who said the district would be following up on the allegations. He also issued a letter to district patrons, which was posted on the district’s website.
The “we’re-looking-into-it” response wasn’t enough, especially when addressing such serious claims, and the letter seemed to focus on what the administration couldn’t do rather than what they are going to do. But we were encouraged to learn late last week that the school board appears to be listening and has taken action by scheduling a special work session at 4:30 p.m. Wednesday, Dec. 18, at the district office to get an update from school personnel on how they are working to address these concerns.
In another letter to parents posted Thursday night, school board members wrote, “It is important to us that those parents (who spoke out at the meeting) know that their concerns were heard. We recognize and admire the courage it takes to come before the board of education, in a public setting, and talk about painful and personal issues. Our policy states that we do not respond to comments made during the public comment period. We abided by this on Monday, but want to be clear that we are taking action.”
In our opinion, the sentiments expressed in the letter were exactly what concerned parents needed to hear from their elected leaders on the school board. According to this same letter, Meeks has been meeting with parents and students while working closely with Advocates of Routt County with plans to report back to the school board and “wider community” with his findings.
These next steps following last Monday night’s meeting seem well-intentioned, but we encourage the board and district leaders to not stop there but respond to this situation with urgency, transparency and an eye toward continued action.
At issue: Parents raised concerns at the Dec. 9 school board meeting about a “systemic” problem at the Steamboat Springs High School where female students are not being heard or protected amid allegations of sexual harassment or sexual assault.
Our View: This issue is serious and deserves an urgent, transparent and inclusive investigation, including the possible creation of a task force to address concerns and come up with solutions.
- Logan Molen, publisher
- Lisa Schlichtman, editor
- Jason Gilligan, community representative
- Don Moss, community representative
It’s vitally important that the administration and school board make themselves available to parents and students and are open to listening to their concerns. And once the district has concluded its internal investigation, we suggest the formation of a task force to address sexual harassment at the high school. This group would include district administrators, school board members, faculty, students, parents, Advocates and law enforcement personnel.
It’s apparent to us that a systematic review of the culture that has contributed to the current situation is long overdue. This is not a problem to be solved by the administration alone, and it’s further complicated because sexual harassment isn’t always a physical act but can often involve social media and instances of cyber bullying.
With these mitigating factors in play, we believe even more strongly that input from a task force of school personnel, students and experts from outside the district will be a foundational part of fostering permanent change and creating a positive, safe environment for students.
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