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Okotoks students put spotlight on sexual harassment in walkout

Sex-ed, mental health, accountability, top priority for Okotoks students staging walkout
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Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports.

The voices of more than 100 students rang together in protest outside the front doors of Foothills Composite High School Thursday morning (Nov. 25), demanding better sex-ed, improved mental-health support and real consequences for sexual harassment, among other issues.  

“I was disappointed with the lack of punishment toward some things that have happened toward me and was feeling anxious with those same people walking down the hallways with me,” said walkout organizer Elle Lomas, a Grade 12 student at FCHS.  

Students chanted and raised signs for more than hour, asking for their voices to be heard.  

Lomas explained students have been disappointed with staff’s handling of sexual harassment, the inaccessibility of mental-health supports and the lack of inclusivity and depth of sexual education, which motivated her to take action.  

“It’s so much bigger than this school,” she said. “It ties into what [Western Canada High School] and [Central Memorial High School] did in Calgary. We’re just lucky to have the staff, principals and administration who support us in this, because I know that it was different in Calgary.” 

The student said instances of harassment often occur in the school bathroom, and she herself has been a victim of actions that resulted in few consequences.

Female students will often go to the bathroom in pairs or groups to feel safe, she said, and having more than one person in a stall or vaping is punished more severely than the acts of harassment.  

“That just didn’t seem right to me, at all,” said Lomas.  

Another concern expressed by students is more comprehensive sexual education, she said.

Sexual assault, domestic violence, consent and LGBTQ2S+ education are just some of the topics they would like to see discussed in the classroom.  

The school is mandated to teach the health curriculum designed by the province, which at this time, does not extensively explore these issues.  

“I was having a conversation with a couple of my friends and they didn’t know what a rape kit was until I explained it to them. Students don’t have the proper resources know how to deal with sexual assault or rape or even abusive relationships. People can’t recognize that because they’ve never been taught about it."

Lomas said she consulted with staff prior to the walkout and they have been supportive in her venture. 

They even committed to adding three ‘breathing rooms’ in the school to provide students with a place to decompress.  

“I’m so grateful to have a school that [listens]. I love this school so much,” she said.  

Vincent Hunter, principal at FCHS, said the protest was an opportunity for students to stand with their fellow students on issues that are important to them.  

“Today is about students coming out and expressing how they feel and where they’re at, and asking us, as adults, to listen and be responsive and do our absolute best to do what they need to do well,” he said. “I think they’re doing a great job at that right now.”  

He said the school is actively working to support all students and staff will do their best to consider having conversations about issues raised by students that are within their power.  

“We want our actions and our responses to everything to have the guts in it; that it carries on and it continues and that the kids do feel heard and do recognize that — to the best of our ability, with them — we’re trying to improve on their quality of life in our schools,” Hunter said.  

Lomas said she was extremely happy with the turnout and she didn’t expect it to garner as much support as it did.

She chalks it up to the support of her friends and peers in the fine arts program all coming together to advocate for change.  

“My little sister is in Grade 10 and she’s here and I want this school to be a good place for her and for anybody who is entering it, not to feel scared or alone,” she said.  

READ MORE: VIDEO: Okotoks students demand better sex-ed in walkout - OkotoksToday.ca

NEWS-FCHS Walkout BWC 9088 web
Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
NEWS-FCHS Walkout BWC 9191 web
Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
NEWS-FCHS Walkout BWC 9067 web
Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
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Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
 
NEWS-FCHS Walkout BWC 9065 web
Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
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Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
 
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Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
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Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
NEWS-FCHS Walkout BWC 9287 web
Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY
NEWS-FCHS Walkout BWC 9024 web
Students of the Foothills Composite High School participate in a walkout Nov. 25 demanding better handling of sexual harassment and assault claims, better sex education curriculum (specifically around consent) and better mental health supports. Brent Calver/OkotoksTODAY

 


Lauryn Heintz

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