• Anna Minard
Seattle Public School board president Sharon Peaslee seems really dedicated this week to completely missing the point of important critiques regarding the school district's handling of sexual assault and harassment cases.

Yesterday, I wrote about Peaslee admonishing the protesters at a school board meeting, who were there to ask district leaders to improve their response to student complaints and their compliance with Title IX, in the wake of a well-publicized alleged rape of a Garfield High School student. Some of their signs and testimony referenced that case, but the concerns that community members brought were broader, mainly around an obvious need to better train and educate staff, faculty, and students on the issue.

But instead of responding to their reasonable concerns and leaving it at that, as her colleagues did, Peaslee took the time to lecture them on criminal law. She told the assembled crowd to "please consider that we live in a society where everyone is innocent until proven guilty. There have been two criminal investigations around this and no one was charged... with rape." For good measure, she hinted that there are facts in this case that are "unknown to almost everyone."

Her comments were tone-deaf and offensive, many people in the room agreed, so a recent Garfield graduate decided to try and politely point that out to Peaslee via e-mail after the meeting. Spoiler alert: Peaslee doesn't get it.

Here's what the student wrote to her:

Hey Sharon,

My name is Sam Heft-Luthy and I'm a 2012 graduate of Garfield High School and a junior at Brown University. I was one of the students present for the public comment portion of the meeting yesterday and I wanted to reach out in response to your board comments.

First, it is obviously good to see that the board does appear to be taking this issue seriously. I'm hoping that the actions outlined in the letter read by Superintendent Nyland will be the beginning of a long process undertaken to resolve the major issues that led to this in the first place, including both extensive sexual assault education and better administrative training about the responsibilities of Seattle School District employees—under both Title IX and Seattle Public Schools policy, both of which appear to have been violated in this case.

I also was hoping to respond to the second portion of your comments and let you know why what you said was fairly upsetting given the context of our demonstration and the actual message that activists have been attempting to spread during this process.

My intention in attending the protest (I cannot speak to others but I believe they have similar motives) was not to call for a specific disciplinary action to be taken against the alleged perpetrator in this case. I am not speaking to exactly what happened in November 2012 because I do not have the legal status or perspective to determine the facts of the case.

What I am speaking to is a clear lack of sexual assault and sexual safety education in Seattle Public Schools as indicated by the fact that a student would say something as absurd and ignorant as “I did not pay attention to her that much”—regardless of the alleged victim's consent status, this is not healthy sexual behavior and this line of thinking needs to be addressed by Seattle Public Schools.

Please, do not derail this conversation by turning it into a he-said-she-said story about whether the alleged victim's story is provable beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law because that is not what it is about. It is about the systemic issues that led to this line of thinking as well as what appears to be a mismanaged case by administrators who were not educated about how to respond to allegations like this.

Again, I do hope that this leads to a re-evaluation of how Seattle Schools responds to cases like this when they happen in the future—and if the current district policy on sexual assault education continues, I'm sad to say that future might be coming up sooner than we would like.

Sam Heft-Luthy
Garfield High School '12

And here's her reply:

Hi Sam,

Thanks for writing. Some of my comments were in response to the signs and rhetoric that protestors have generated around this situation. It's highly unjust to assert rape when there was no criminal charge. Your motives around the need for more education and better interventions are laudable and I support them. I do not support a campaign that accuses someone of committing a crime they have not been charged with.


Sharon Peaslee
Seattle School Board President

I'm surprised by how dismissive she's being of serious criticism toward the school district; by trying to pretend that angered constituents are merely upset about an individual case, she attempts to skirt the real blame for an apparent lack of training and rule-following on behalf of adults—a blame that falls squarely on the district and its leaders. And as I said yesterday, even without a criminal charge of rape, this is still an instance of dubiously consensual anal sex on a school field trip that sent a 15-year-old girl to the hospital with a diagnosis of rape trauma syndrome. And that's just the start of it—the family's complaint is about the district bungling the ensuing investigation. If Peaslee's not chastened by the horror of all that, and feels it's a good use of her time to chastise protesters, that's a real problem.

The only good thing about this is that it's always fun to see when young people are smarter about the world than politicians. But at least for me, this makes it difficult to imagine voting for Peaslee in the future.