Students in Thompson Falls exercised their First Amendment right of freedom of assembly last week when they organized a “peaceful protest” to raise awareness of bullying and harassment issues.
At 1:20 p.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 4, about 40 high school students walked around the high school parking lot, circling back into the school library where they were able to discuss issues.
Thompson Falls Superintendent Bill Cain said that overall, he was “impressed” with how the situation played out.
“The thing I was really proud of was the whole group. They walked out, respectfully came back in” and listened as two students who led the protest, senior Trinity Godfrey and junior Brooke Bowlin, held “an orderly conversation” with Cain.
ACCORDING TO Cain, the protest came about after the two female students alleged derogatory altercations from peers.
In the moments before the protest, Cain said he was not aware of harassment at the school.
Godfrey, who moved with her family from Spokane at the beginning of the 2017-2018 school year, said she observed racial and gender slurs at her new school.
Eventually, some of the bullying behavior was directed toward the then-junior.
She said that after going to faculty, nothing was changing so she and Bowlin, who was experiencing similar issues, Godfrey noted, decided to talk with the district school board.
Cain explained that once the high school principal, Rich Ferris, heard about possible bullying, he sent a letter home with students asking them to visit the district’s anonymous website and explain the alleged incidents.
Some students took administration up on the offer, and the following week Cain said advisory meetings were set up so that some of the bullying issues could be examined.
The case involving both Godfrey and Bowlin, however, did not come to light until last Monday, during a school board meeting.
Cain said that both young women attended the meeting, explaining they were both upset.
Once the information was shared, Cain said that on Tuesday, the two female students met with the principal and counselors before the demonstration.
A protest was discussed, which included students walking around the high school parking lot and holding up signs with various slurs.
Several days after the protest, the superintendent said that present at the discussion following the walkout was a Title IX investigator.
THE DECISION to organize a walkout was an idea that Godfrey had that she said “just clicked” for her.
It was something that would bring awareness from staff, peers and the community.
Cain said that he felt Tuesday was “really helpful,” because the students were able to speak their mind and talk with him on the same day.
As for the future, both Cain and Godfrey said they hope that this experience is something from which everyone can learn.
“We’re going to follow through. And we’re going to deal with these issues. Hopefully, we’re better off for it,” Cain said, days after the protest.
Godfrey said she feels “really confident” that Cain took her and Bowlin seriously and wants to make the school environment better.
“He treated me like an adult, like someone who matters,” Godfrey said. “We can only look forward to the future.”