Amistad High Students Stage Walkout Over Sexual Assault & Harassment | #childabductors

Students walked out of Amistad High School Wednesday, told tear-filled stories of experiencing sexual assault and harassment, and demanded change.

The protest, organized by the Social Justice Club, began around 8:30 a.m. outside the charter school run by Achievement First on Dixwell Avenue. (Click here to watch the full protest.)

“Whose school? Our school!” chanted the students, most of whom were female.

“If we don’t get it, shut it down!”

Then students recounted their experiences.

“My sophomore year, I got sexually assaulted by a teacher that [later] got fired,” recounted Gabrielle Lopez, who is now a senior.

She referenced how that year began with Amistad firing a principal, Morgan Barth, who had physically attacked a student. (The discipline took place only after the Independent published a video of the incident.)

“I walked into sophomore year thinking it was going to be a normal high school year. We had a new principal. We didn’t have to deal with Morgan anymore.

“I was sadly mistaken.”

She then spoke about a teacher who allegedly attacked female students at the school.

“At first I didn’t see [him] as a predator. I didn’t think much of the comments he would make. I stayed quiet,” Lopez recalled.

“After a while, Mr. Little tried to help me find jobs. Every time he would try to help me with schoolwork, he would be in the classroom with no one in it.

“The first time he touched me, I was in the nurse’s office with a migraine. As I was about to leave to go to class, he opened up a roll of tape and gripped my left breast. And he walked around my body with that piece of tape.

“I said nothing.

“The next couple of times he would see me in the hallway, he would grip my butt like he was my boyfriend or someone he was dating. I stayed silent. I was scared of repercussions. I was worried he would go farther or I wouldn’t be believed.”

After other people came forward with similar stories, Lopez spoke up, she said.

“Unfortunately not everything I hoped would happen happened,” she said amid tears. “My father came to the school board meeting. We had a meeting with leadership. They asked what happened. They said, ‘Mr. Lopez, I will keep in touch,’ but that never happened.

“More should have been done about it. The conversation we’re having now should have taken place sophomore year.”

Courtney Luciana Photo

Amistad’s current principal, Simon Obas, stood listening among the students as Lopez and others spoke.“There are so many more girls that wanted to talk now,” Lopez told him. “They are terrified. They are terrified of what the leadership would have done. They are afraid of the boys … You guys are here to protect us and you have not protected us. Year after year, graduating class, the girls here are not protected. They would rather protect their young men.”

Another student, Charity Reid, spoke about a male student who “constantly made lewd comments about my body” her freshman year. She told him to stop; he continued. One day he “was reaching for my butt” while she walked in a hallway. Her friends “threw him against the wall” and demanded he apologize.

“He refused to apologize. He never looked me in the eye. He never said, ‘I’m sorry,’” Reid recalled.

“So when I came into my sophomore year and I knew we were having a new principal, I was excited for the change that was going to happen. I kept hearing stories. The staff heard the whispers in the hallways, the disrespect to young women. Yet I did not see anything change. I did not see anything happening.”

The Social Justice Club’s president, Jaeana Bethea, said students have brought these concerns to school leaders. They have met. They asked for schoolwide assemblies, a new handbook, and other measures to bring the issue into the open and deal with it. “We have received nothing but pushback” and “threats about retaliation” if they staged a walkout.

After the students spoke, they gave Principal Obas the microphone.

“I applaud you and commend you for standing up for social justice,” Obas said. He praised Reid and Lopez for “coming up here and being vulnerable.”

“You said some real stuff out there, some troubling stories, speaking your truth,” the principal continued. “On the other side of this, I am very sorry you had that experience in this school. I am here now. No one, nobody deserves to be sexually harassed. That does not belong in this school.” He promised to ensure the high school is a “place where sexual violence doesn’t happen.”

Cathy Castro, a parent with three children in the school, also praised the students, while expressing confidence in the principal: “I am in touch with Dr. Obas, who maybe has not been able to explain how much he cares because he has not been able to.”

Indeed, Obas refused to make any comments to reporters at the rally. He referred all questions to a spokesperson for the Achievement First network of charter schools.

That spokesperson, Amanda Pinto, told the Independent that network updated its family handbook before the start of the school year; has held in-person and virtual discussions with Amistad High parents and families “to reiterate our policies and procedures for reporting sexual harassment”; expanded the health curriculum to cover sexual harassment/assault prevention in required courses; and is planning workshops beginning in December on the subject.

“We are proud of our students for standing up for what they believe in. We take sexual harassment prevention and awareness very seriously, and we do not tolerate sexual harassment,” Pinto stated.

“We are not aware of any active complaints. And we encourage students, if there are complaints, to bring them forth so we can investigate. If we receive a complaint, if it involves a staff member, we place that staff member on administrative leave and take appropriate disciplinary actions up to and including termination.”

Pinto reported that the school is taking a “restorative” approach rather than disciplining students who participated in Wednesday’s walkout.

posted by: Thomas Alfred Paine on November 24, 2021  11:49am

Achievement First and Amistad High have had a problematic and controversial history. Over the years we have heard reports of threats, intimidation, repression and reprisals against students AND staff from school administrators and leadership.
If the students thought their concerns were being addressed and taken seriously, this walk out and protest rally, a PUBLIC call for help, would not have occurred. When students complain for months about sexual harassment, and nothing is done, students are left in a dangerous and disruptive environment.
Anyone considering sending their children to Amistad High should thoroughly investigate the school before sending their children there. Talk to current and former students. Talk to current and former teachers.  Find out about their rules and regulations and how students are treated and regimented.
If there is a repressive environment in this school in which students and staff fear reprisal when they raise serious concerns about school policies and school problems, why would any parent subject their kid to that kind of environment?

posted by: Dennis.. on November 24, 2021  1:09pm

“The first time he touched me, I was in the nurse’s office with a migraine. As I was about to leave to go to class, he opened up a roll of tape and gripped my left breast. And he walked around my body with that piece of tape.

“The next couple of times he would see me in the hallway, he would grip my butt like he was my boyfriend or someone he was dating. I stayed silent. I was scared of repercussions. I was worried he would go farther or I wouldn’t be believed.”

Isn’t this criminal behavior?

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on November 24, 2021  6:15pm

I said this back in 2019 we need this.

posted by: THREEFIFTHS on January 23, 2019 10:47pm

They Need a The Charter Schools Act like this one.

1. STUDENT RIGHTS – Charter schools MUST be required to retain Special Ed and ELL students. No longer push out, counsel out or expel them out of the school.
2. PARENT RIGHTS – Every charter school board MUST have a parent board member who is the President of the school’s independent parent association.
3. BILL OF RIGHTS – There MUST be a universal Parents Bill of Rights and Students Bill of Rights for charter schools.
4. INDEPENDENT PARENTS ASSOCIATION – Every charter school MUST be required to have an independent parents association.
5. CO-LOCATIONS – The state MUST develop a better process in determining co-locations in public school buildings in New York City because it is pitting parents against each other.
6. ACCOUNTABILITY & TRANSPARENCY – Charter school board members and employees MUST be held to rigorous financial disclosure requirements and conflict of interest prohibitions as all other organizations receiving public money. There MUST be more oversight of Founding Boards. Board members MUST NOT be allowed to be permanent trustees. All employees (principals, directors, staff) MUST not be allowed to serve on the board. All schools must be audited by the State Comptroller.
7. CHARTER CONTRACT & BY-LAWS – Every charter school MUST be required to post their charter and by-laws online to increase accountability and transparency in charter schools and their governing boards. Every board meeting MUST be held at the school.
8. STATE RECEIVERSHIP – The state MUST have the authority to take over a charter school and re-constitute the board of trustees.
9. MANAGEMENT ORGANIZATIONS – For Profit Management organizations MUST NOT be allowed to manage charters. Public money should be spent on public students.

Part one

posted by: NHIreader on November 24, 2021  7:40pm

@ISeeRacism what makes you think they are BIPOC?  Furthermore, would it be better* if they were straight?  What does their orientation even matter when they are being molested?  All I see are children being molested, which is terrible. 

The children in this article never spoke about their orientation.  They spoke out about their abuse. 
They are also speaking about a promotion of abuse amongst the male students. It was sickening for me to read about a possible “retaliation” for speaking out, and that they are afraid of “the boys”. If anything, I am reading about male-to-female abuse in this article. 

Every EMPLOYEE in that building is a mandated reporter, by law- not just the counselors.  Why are staff not making reports?

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