BAR HARBOR — Dozens of students at Mount Desert Island High School walked out of class on May 27 to protest what they felt were unaddressed complaints of inappropriate behavior and allegations of sexual misconduct between students at the school.
The students say the school has not adequately responded to alleged sexual harassment. The school, for its part, is in the process of updating its policies to better reflect student concerns.
“There are some kids that really struggle with appropriate ways to show affection and understanding what’s appropriate and what’s not,” said MDI Regional School System Superintendent Michael Zboray, after the walk out occurred.
Students who organized the walkout met with Zboray the following week to voice their opinions and discuss solutions as to how the school could better deal with these issues going forward. Two of their biggest concerns, said students, were the school’s current definitions and reporting processes for sexual harassment.
“People think that online relationships are the same as in person, and that’s not necessarily the case,” said Zboray.
Students expressed the importance of teaching students about consent. “Consent isn’t just about intimate relations, but the idea that each student should be in charge of who can touch their body,” Zboray said, adding that includes everything from holding hands to rubbing shoulders.
Zboray said that there could have been experiences outside of school between students that led to inappropriate behavior in school, which goes back to the importance of consent.
Walkout organizers also felt that there should be easier ways for students to report misconduct. Instead of the current policy, which involves filling out forms, they felt that there should be a faster and more discreet process to filing a complaint.
Students expressed that a victim should be able to say they were violated and that discipline should immediately follow. They agreed that witnesses should be encouraged to show support for the victim by reporting incidents.
Zborary said they discussed more ways to assist victims so that incidents don’t impact learning.
While the district is currently amending its discrimination and harassment policy, it is also updating its sexual harassment policy, which Zboray said would include input from students. “Two days before the walkout, we were actually working on that policy, because it was kind of tied to the transgender policy, and we wanted to make sure that we are aligning all of our policies together” he said.
“One of the most important ways to be able to regain your power is to make sure justice is done,” said Zboray, who supported the student’s walkout. He said the school understands the importance of building relationships with students and their families so that when serious incidents such as sexual misconduct happen, there’s somebody in the school in which a victim can confide.