Nfld. & Labrador

Fear and anxiety at Stephenville High: Alleged sexual assaults cause uproar​

Parent Susan Fowlow has quit her position on the school council, and students are planning a silent protest at Stephenville High School on Wednesday, after reports of a male student allegedly sexually assaulting multiple female students.

Parent Susan Fowlow quits school council; students organize silent protest for Wednesday

It's alleged that a male student from Stephenville High School has sexually assaulted multiple female students. (CBC)

Students and parents at Stephenville High School are speaking out after a male student allegedly sexually assaulted fellow female students.

Parent Susan Fowlow has quit her position on the school council, and students are planning a silent protest at the school for Wednesday.

In responding to an email from CBC News, the Newfoundland and Labrador English School District (NLESD) says it is "aware of a situation involving a male student at a high school accused of sexual assault," and that the allegations involve "female students attending the same school."

The district said it does not have the full details of the charges because the information is protected under the Youth Criminal Justice Act.

The NLESD said the student accused of the charges will not be in attendance at the school at the present time.

The statement continued that if the situation changes, the district will make sure the alleged victims are aware and that safety measures are put into place.

The district said it has enacted the Safe and Caring Schools policy, and that it's committed to ensuring the safety and well-being of all students.

But students and parents alike are questioning that commitment.

Students are hoping a protest on Wednesday will show their support for alleged victims. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

Alleged assault happened in December

The mother of an alleged victim spoke with CBC News, but neither she nor her daughter can be identified because of a publication ban.

She said her daughter was sexually assaulted a few days before Christmas by a male student of the high school.

The mother said her daughter gave a statement to police, and since that time, two other students have come forward.

She said the accused had been removed from the school while the investigation was happening, but the school board later allowed him to go back.

"Despite having a school act in place, a number of bylaws, and a Safe and Caring School policy... the board's decision was to allow that youth to come back into school to be integrated into the school atmosphere, which has all sorts of re-victimization implications to the victims," she said.

The mother said the alleged acts that happened to her daughter were a "serious, violent offence."

She's having nightmares, she's having difficulty sleeping... I witnessed a panic attack on the weekend. This is completely out of her character.- Mother of alleged victim

She said she was initially told the accused would be going back to the school full time, and since there were no other alternatives for her daughter, she was going to send her to live with relatives elsewhere to finish out the school year.

But now that the accused will not be returning, she will allow her daughter to continue classes at Stephenville High.

She said her daughter is coping day-to-day.

"She's having nightmares, she's having difficulty sleeping... I witnessed a panic attack on the weekend. This is completely out of her character," she said.

The mother says it's imperative for the public to take a stand.

"With something as important as this issue is, I think with protection of children in the forefront of our minds, I think we really do need to band together and advocate for change," she said.

"I'm hoping that what will come of this, that we will be lobbying government to make changes so this doesn't happen again." 

Parent quits school council

Susan Fowlow, a parent who sat on the Stephenville High School council, left her position after she said the parents of victims were told the accused would be returning to the school.

Susan Fowlow, a parent who sat on the Stephenville High School council, left her position after she says the parents of victims were told that the accused would be returning to the school. (Colleen Connors/CBC)

She said it was the second instance of an unfair situation, following a ban on school sports last fall.

"It kind of came as a last-ditch effort to raise awareness about what I felt was [an] ... unfair decision," she said.

'It's nothing safe or caring about a school that allows victims to attend a school with accused perpetrators."- Susan Fowlow

"I felt that the practice was wrong, there didn't seem to be an avenue that was keeping victims safe, and I also felt that parents didn't know, and I wasn't prepared to be a part of a council that belonged to, unfortunately, a school that was getting a bad name based on board decisions... I didn't want to be part of anything that re-victimized victims."

Fowlow said the board seemed ill-prepared to deal with this situation.

"It's nothing safe or caring about a school that allows victims to attend a school with accused perpetrators," she said.

Fowlow said students at the school are saddened, upset, and shaken by the whole ordeal.

"I think it's time for the school board to see this as an opportunity, that somebody has through a very serious and devastating circumstance, has pointed out that you don't have a process that protects victims," she said.

"You need to have a good, firm look at how you're going to move forward, because not protecting people is not good enough."

Student Cameron Caines says he's organizing a silent protest and a refusal of work at Stephenville High School on Wednesday. (Submitted)

Students organizing protest

Student Cameron Caines said there is a lot of fear and anxiety at Stephenville High.

We're going to be wearing safety pins as a symbol for the girls who feel like they're falling apart.- Cameron Caines , student

He's organizing a silent protest and a refusal of work at the school on Wednesday.

"We're going to be wearing safety pins as a symbol for the girls who feel like they're falling apart," he said.

"The safety pins are supposed to symbolize keeping things together, so we're trying to show our support."

Caines said the school board needs a plan in place to deal with these types of situations.

"We're hoping that the school board takes notice and really sees just how much the people in this school are afraid and want things to change."

With files from Colleen Connors

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