Year after Aidan Atkinson’s arrest, expanded sexual violence education in BVSD stalls | #teacher | #children | #kids

Wearing a clear mask and twisting her hands in her lap, a 2020 Fairview High School graduate testified in court that she hesitated to report allegations that the school’s standout quarterback sexually assaulted her because he seemed untouchable.

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.

Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post

Beatriz Sanchez, 18, poses for the portrait in front of Fairview High School in Boulder on September 2, 2020.

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.

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