Our View: Student protest sparked important community dialogue | SteamboatToday.com

Our View: Student protest sparked important community dialogue

An Oct. 21 protest by five students to draw attention to what they described as a lack of appropriate response to allegations of sexual assault and harassment at Steamboat Springs High School served to put the issue of the school’s culture back in the community spotlight and spark more open dialogue about an important issue that had quieted down after making headlines back in January 2020.

First, we want to commend the students for speaking out and making their views known in such a public way. This took courage, and their protest was the catalyst for constructive discussion surrounding an issue that is often difficult to talk about and, as a result, sometimes silenced.

We also appreciate how quickly school district leaders responded to these claims. The Steamboat Springs Board of Education, Superintendent Brad Meeks and Steamboat Springs High School Principal Richard Elertson didn’t try to “quiet” the situation but, instead, openly addressed the concerns during a public school board meeting, pledging to improve communication so that students fully understand how to report incidents of sexual assault and harassment in a way that makes them feel safe and heard. Elertson is new to the district and has so far impressed us with his willingness to be open and transparent with students and the community.

The protest occurred at the same time Steamboat Pilot & Today reported on the work of the Culture and Climate Task Force, which was formed in the wake of the formal investigation into high school administrators’ alleged mishandling of sexual harassment claims, at a time the group is looking to expand districtwide.

Based on the reporting, it is clear the task force took the investigative report written by former FBI agent Jane Quimby seriously, and its members have worked hard over the past 20 months to identify five main goals they believe have the power to change the culture and climate at the high school. These include:

• Restructuring the task force into a districtwide standing committee that includes students, staff, parents and other community members with no direct connection to the district.

• Conducting an environmental scan of the culture and climate across the district during the 2020-21 school year.

• Adding a high school course focused on healthy relationships.

• Helping to launch a peer program at the high school.

• Adding an amnesty clause to remove barriers to reporting sexual and other misconduct in the school.

At a glance

At issue: Steamboat Springs High School students held a peaceful protest to shine a light on what they alleged was a lack of appropriate response to sexual assault and harassment.

Our View: The protest was a catalyst for a larger community conversation on these issues, and now it’s time for Climate and Culture Task Force recommendations to be acted upon.

Editorial Board

• Logan Molen, publisher

• Lisa Schlichtman, editor

• Bryce Martin, assistant editor and digital engagement editor

• Ana Gomez, community representative

• Kelly McElfish, community representative

Contact the Editorial Board at 970-871-4221 or lschlichtman@SteamboatPilot.com.

We believe the task force’s work is solid, but now it’s time to ensure its recommendations are implemented. We suggest the school board adds culture and climate reports to its monthly agenda and gets regular updates on how these initiatives are progressing. We also hope they’ll consider hiring someone to oversee implementation of the task force’s five goals.

There is no room for complacency, and as the task force transitions to a committee, we hope the sense of urgency is not diminished. This work needs to remain top of mind for everyone, including administrators, teachers, parents and students. And we encourage parents to stay involved and have tough conversations with their children on these subjects. Parents must remember these important discussions and solutions are not the sole responsibility of educators but the entire community.

Communication remains key going forward, and it would serve district leaders well if they researched how teens like to receive their information, and then utilize those platforms. Maybe TikTok videos or Instagram posts could be used for informational and educational purposes, and we suggest recruiting students to assist with a detailed communications plan.

There are many in the community, including our young people, who want to see this conversation continue, and they also want action. Those who want to get involved and learn more about the issue should plan to attend tonight’s community forum hosted by Advocates of Routt County. The event will be held at 6 p.m. at Steamboat Springs Community Center and will include a brief information session followed by a facilitated Q&A segment for anyone to ask questions directly to professional advocates and others. Please plan to attend.

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