SNOHOMISH — Dozens of students walked out of Snohomish High School in protest early Friday, demanding the school condemn sexual misconduct.
On Monday, a student reported another student forcibly kissed her friend, 14, in the hallway — sparking an online petition and student calls for the district to push back against “rape culture.”
Snohomish High School Principal Eric Cahan sent a statement to families via email on Tuesday.
“We take all matters and allegations such as this very seriously,” Cahan wrote in the email. “There is significant misinformation, gossip and rumor regarding this incident being shared throughout our community.”
On Wednesday, Cahan was placed on administrative leave pending an investigation, district spokesperson Kristin Foley said. Monica Bauer, Snohomish School District executive director of teaching and learning services, stepped in as acting principal.
The 14-year-old girl’s mother, Betsy Rodriguez, told The Daily Herald she felt like she failed her child after she got a tearful call from her Monday afternoon.
“She called me seconds after. She ran to the bathroom crying,” Rodriguez said. “She was in complete panic mode.”
The student had left her fifth-period class to get water, she said in an interview. While at a vending machine, a male student she said she had never interacted with approached her and asked for her water, then her name and phone number.
“So I kind of stay silent and he grabs me and he kisses me,” the girl said. She said she tried to push him off.
Rodriguez said her daughter wrote an email to the superintendent making a plea for help on Tuesday.
The district reported the assault and Snohomish police showed up at her house Tuesday night, the girl said.
A Snohomish detective who specializes in sexual assault was assigned to the case and is investigating it like any other report, in coordination with the school district, said Courtney O’Keefe, spokesperson for the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office.
The family reviewed security footage of the incident Wednesday.
“I know my daughter and my daughter’s body language,” Rodriguez said. “She was really, really in distress. And I think anybody who sees this video will agree with me this child was in distress.”
The girl said re-living the assault on video was upsetting.
“I was on the verge of tears, but I didn’t really know what to say,” she said.
Meanwhile, students called for a walkout Friday morning.
“I’ve been so furious,” said Snohomish High student Samantha Burton, who took part in the protest. “It’s just brought up so much of my past. The mental abuse. The gaslighting, flat out manipulation — it’s just ridiculous.”
Students marched from the school to downtown Snohomish. They chanted “believe all victims,” wore teal shirts and ribbons in support of sexual abuse survivors, and carried signs with messages of solidarity including “#MeToo.” They were met with honks from supportive drivers.
A grandmother pulled over to tell protesters they were making the school district better for her 6-year-old granddaughter.
Many of the students at the walkout said they came in support of the teenager and others in the district who said they have felt unsafe in school.
Some students from Centennial Middle School joined the walkout.
“It’s important to make sure that people know that it’s not OK to do sexual harassment,” Centennial seventh-grader Addison Shivers said.
Parents stood alongside kids to demand safe schools.
“I expect them to do better,” said Kristine Norton, a Snohomish High School parent. “They need to listen to the victim.”
Rodriguez, the girl’s mother, said the district agreed to bring in a third-party investigator to review surveillance footage and claims the school mishandled its response.
“That investigation is continuing and as such no further details can be released at this time,” Foley said.
The student said staff did not explain the school’s investigation process to her, or what her next steps were.
“They just told me to come into the office and write a statement,” she said.
District policy outlines that all formal complaints must first be put in writing. Then a compliance officer investigates any written complaint of sexual harassment “that the officer believes requires further investigation.”
A written report must be provided to the superintendent for review. The superintendent needs to respond in writing to both the complainant and the accused within 30 days.
“I’m kind of at my wit’s ends with them,” Rodriguez said. “They’ve got to do something. I just pray this third party investigator they’re hiring does its job.”
The district must take “corrective measures” within a month of the superintendent’s response, unless the accused person appeals.
Isabella Breda: 425-339-3192; email@example.com. Twitter: @BredaIsabella.