Yes, he was popular, she said in answer to an attorney’s questions.
Yes, students liked him.
Yes, teachers liked him.
Those accusations against Aidan Atkinson became public in the fall of 2019 — a year after the alleged attack happened — and they roiled the school and prompted some students, including 2020 graduates Sophie Dellinger and Beatriz Sanchez to begin a campaign to reform how Fairview and the entire Boulder Valley School District handle sexual violence allegations and prevention training. They also want to change what they see as a culture at Fairview that lets athletes like Atkinson play by different rules.
Last week, a former Fairview student testified against a school social worker, who had been accused of failing to report allegations of sexual assault once the student confided in her. The social worker was acquitted. The felony sexual assault charges filed in connection with the 2018 case against Atkinson, 19, are pending.
As Fairview students return to school this year, Sanchez and Dellinger are still pushing even though they have entered college. They’ve met with administrators, helped the district revise its Title IX policy, pushed for more student training on sexual assault and launched a website designed to give survivors of sexual violence in the school district a place to anonymously share their stories.
They’ve made some progress — a new Title IX policy was adopted in August — but they’re frustrated by stalled plans for districtwide training.
“Students are hurting, and it is the administration’s responsibility to take accountability at this point, because it’s just radio silence from them until we do something, until we send them a petition we signed — they have no motivation and no accountability to take those next steps,” Sanchez said. “We’re having to force feed them the information.”
Randy Barber, a spokesman for the Boulder Valley School District, declined interview requests with district administrators and instead issued a statement in response to Denver Post inquiries in which he said the district has taken a variety of steps to “improve our procedures around the reporting of sexual violence allegations” and increase prevention measures.
In the spring, the district updated its Title IX information on its website — Title IX is a federal law that prohibits discrimination based on gender. In August, it updated its policy and trained two leaders at each school on Title IX procedures. Over the summer, the district also worked with local advocates to produce a video that explains resources and protocols around Title IX for staff, Barber said in the statement.
“Planning and feedback sessions have been ongoing with a local student-led coalition to get input on strategies and even deliver some of the information themselves,” the statement said.
Fairview administrators sought help after the allegations against Atkinson roiled the school.
They called Moving to End Sexual Assault (MESA), a Boulder sexual violence resource center, and in January and February MESA gave a half-day training to faculty and staff at Fairview on sexual violence, rape culture and bystander intervention, and then followed up with a shorter presentation to about 200 parents.
“We got a good response all across the board in agreement that more of these types of training were needed, because frankly the faculty and staff were not really equipped to handle something of this magnitude, or had minimal understanding of some of the dynamics of rape culture in particular,” said Janine D’Anniballe, director at MESA.
The staff had been trained on child abuse reporting, but not on sexual violence reporting, she said, which are two different issues, and there weren’t clear protocols for trauma-informed support for victims of sexual crimes, she said.
“Like if a student is in a class with someone they made a report against, how can the school help navigate that or make changes to address that?” D’Anniballe said.
The district and MESA made plans to expand training and education on sexual violence to all students in the district this fall.
In late June, MESA submitted a proposal to the district that suggested its staff conduct 792 hour-long presentations to groups of 25 students in middle and high schools, offer presentations to parents at 30 different schools, and give two-hour trainings to staff at 30 schools. The proposal also suggested an additional program aimed at male athletic teams. The entire plan would cost the district about $79,050 for the 2020-2021 school year.
MESA has not heard back from the district, D’Anniballe said. In the district’s statement, Barber said the MESA training is “on pause due to the pandemic crisis.”
“We fully intend to continue the efforts started last school year, but we are focused on ensuring that learning continues given the challenges we are facing, both with instruction and funding,” the statement said.
Dellinger and Sanchez said both school and district administrators seemed willing to put more programs and education about sexual violence in place — until the novel coronavirus hit.
“We kept getting that everything was uncertain and it probably wouldn’t happen this year because of budget cuts and they probably couldn’t fit that in,” Dellinger said, adding that superintendent Rob Anderson said the district couldn’t afford to hire a full-time Title IX coordinator. The district’s legal counsel serves as the coordinator, according to its website.“He said they don’t have the funding to do that and he didn’t want to create that position because he would be taking away money from schools and programs within schools that needed it,” Dellinger said. “It’s just frustrating that they aren’t seeing sexual violence survivors as people who need that funding as well.”
She and Sanchez said Fairview teachers and staff put athletes on a pedestal, sometimes bending the rules around mandatory attendance or discipline for athletes, who are high on the school’s social ladder, or pressuring groups like student council to prioritize promoting athletics over other school programs.
“Aidan just unveiled a much larger problem that was underneath,” Dellinger said of the allegations against the quarterback.
Dellinger is headed to Colorado College for her first semester in January, and Sanchez has started her freshman year at University of Colorado Boulder. But neither intends to let up on the Boulder Valley School District.
“We are not going away anytime soon,” Dellinger said. This fall, they’re working to rally current students and parents of students to their effort.
One parent already on board is Tracy Dundon, who said she was alarmed to hear how prevalent sexual misconduct is in the district.
“Parent involvement is going to be critical if there is to be any significant changes made within our district,” she said.
Parents who want to be involved can reach out through the new website Dellinger and Sanchez created this fall, “BVSD Survivors,” she said.
Sanchez and Dellinger have also started working with current students so they can continue the effort from within the schools. One such student, who asked not to be named to avoid retaliation from the school district, said she is in the fight for the long haul, even though she feels administrators may not be.
“They want to be able to do one thing and fix the problem and be able to move on,” she said. “But that’s not how this issue works at all.”
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