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Atascadero High students speak out about culture of assault, bullying 

In early December, an Instagram page began posting testimonies from students at Atascadero High School.

The anonymous stories range from allegations of homophobia and transphobia, to racism, to sexual assault happening at the North County school. A common theme among the posts is an alleged lack of action taken by school administrators.

"I'm a junior at AHS and so is the person who sexually harrassed me," one anonymous post from Dec. 8 says. "However, when I finally gained confidence to speak out about it, the school silenced me and threatened me with suspension claiming that I am isolating and bullying my abuser. My abuser has been protected and hasn't gotten punished at all."

This is one of nearly 50 stories that have been shared so far on the account, posted under the handle @ahs_iustitia.

click to enlarge SPEAKING OUT Atascadero High School students walked from their school to the Sunken Gardens on Dec. 17 to protest the way their administration handles allegations of sexual assault, bullying, and harassment. - PHOTO BY JAYSON MELLOM
  • Photo By Jayson Mellom
  • SPEAKING OUT Atascadero High School students walked from their school to the Sunken Gardens on Dec. 17 to protest the way their administration handles allegations of sexual assault, bullying, and harassment.

AHS parent Elle Jacobs said she and other parents were first made aware of the account on Dec. 10.

"The school district actually sent out a message to all of the parents saying they were aware that there was an Instagram page that needed to be looked into, and that they were going to investigate and look into it," Jacobs said. "Parents such as myself searched for it, found this, and were disgusted."

Atascadero Unified School District Superintendent Tom Butler told New Times that the high school takes allegations of bullying and harassment seriously and works with the Atascadero Police Department in cases of criminal behavior.

"The one thing that I would want to make clear is that sharing things on an anonymous Instagram is quite a bit different than reporting them to authorities," he said. "I would encourage students to utilize the Police Department, the Sheriff's Office, as well as reaching out to school administrators so that [allegations] can be fully investigated."

But some students say that they've tried to go to administrators when issues arise, and that their allegations aren't taken seriously.

"Many friends of mine have been poorly impacted by teachers and students who have harassed them in class," one AHS student, who requested to remain anonymous, told New Times. "It truly angers me to see people be treated in such a terrible, out-of-date way. ... Every school in America needs to address this in the same way, and that is to support its victims, and to look into it similarly to how Cal Poly is working with their sexual assault and rape allegations and claims that have happened at their school."

Students decided to make their voices heard in a different way: More than 150 students marched from the high school to the Sunken Gardens on Dec. 17 to protest and demand change.

"These kids are shedding light on something that the school district would prefer to keep dark," said Jacobs, who helped the students organize their walk. "From what we've heard, from alumni reaching out, this is nothing new. ... It needs to be handled differently, it needs to be taken seriously."

Superintendent Butler said the district supports the students' right to protest.

"We encourage them to do that in a peaceful manner," he said. "We want them to know that there are resources, we are accessible, and this is a shared goal to have a positive campus."

Dozens of students got up to share their stories during the Dec. 17 protest, each followed by booming cheers from the growing crowd.

"They are here to call on their superintendent, their principal, their teachers, their high school, because they want change," said Jacobs as she watched her own kids and other students speak out at the protest. "They want to be able to focus on their education, which is why they're there—not be shamed for what they look like, their race, who they love, any of those things." Δ

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