By Max Bowenfirstname.lastname@example.org
Following an incident where derogatory messages were posted online, dozens of North Attleborough High School students walked out of class to call for change.
The walkout was held at 11 a.m. on Friday and ended shortly after 1 p.m. with more than 100 students present. They shared stories of alleged harassment or assault, asked that those responsible face consequences, and called on the administration to provide a safe environment at the school. Many began to cry as they recounted what they had endured.
“I want people to see me as who I am,” said Nova Curran, an NAHS student. “I don’t want to be misgendered. It hurts. I’m proud of everyone who supports this.”
The previous day, a school-wide event was held were students were asked to share perspectives on wellness, according to High School Principal Peter Haviland. Students in each class could write these on a large posterboard, which were set up throughout the school. A ‘gallery walk’ was held afterward so students could read the different viewpoints.
Comments could also be posted online anonymously via the educational tool Padlet, and it was here that transphobic, homophobic, and racist messages were seen, according to students. Haviland addressed this incident in a livestream message Friday morning, after which the walkout occurred.
Much of the school administration were present, including Haviland, Superintendent John Antonucci, and Assistant Superintendent Michelle McKeon, all whom offered their support. Band Director Thomas Rizzo spoke to the students and told them that he too wants to see change happen.
“You’re showing each other what’s right,” he said to the assembled students. “We can take what we learned today and start using that to grow tomorrow.”
Following the walkout, Antonucci said there is much work to be done with the goal that every student feels safe in the North Attleborough Schools.
“But I do think they’re frustrated, as are a lot of people with the discourse, the negative discourse that’s happening in our society,” he said. “And so I think it tends to filter down to the schools quite a bit.”
Haviland said what happened today creates the opportunity for a deeper conversation within the schools. Some things, like the comments posted online, can be addressed quickly, while others will take longer. He said these types of conversations have been ongoing for the past few years and cited programs such as the Green Bandanna Project and KyleCares as positive results.
During the walkout, one of the students asked Haviland if he promised to listen to them and remember what happened.
“I promise that I do,” he said. “I do promise and will always promise.”
Throughout the event, students shared their experiences before an atmosphere of support and encouragement, many time cheered on for their openness and courage. Tyler Thayer said that for some, the negative experiences began as far back as middle school. This was Thayer’s first year at NAHS, and they spent two weeks testing the waters before talking about personal matters.
“I hope all the people screaming and crying here got heard,” said Thayer.
Curran said they experienced a change for the better when they moved from Florida to North Attleborough and credited the school for installing a gender-neutral bathroom. Among the things they hope come from today is that those who hurt others see consequences for their actions.
“I want to be able to feel safe at the school,” they said.