Protest Saturday against NKSD’s handling of sexual abuse cases

Starts at 1 p.m. at corner of Highway 104 and Miller Bay Road in Kingston

A peaceful protest against the North Kitsap School District’s treatment of sexual abuse cases is planned for 1 p.m. Saturday at the corner of Highway 104 and Miller Bay Road in Kingston.

The protest is called Stand with Survivors against NKSD and is being put on by the Student Coalition Against Sexual Abuse, a group of students based in Kitsap County fighting for accountability for “predators and policy against sex crime,” its mission statement reads.

KHS principal Jack Simonson sent an email out to students’ families addressing the situation. He said the district does follow through when cases are reported. But he also said because of student privacy laws information cannot be shared.

“My top priority is to ensure that our school is a safe and supportive place for our students,” he said. “We investigate all reports, and we fully cooperate with local law enforcement. We follow state requirements regarding harassment, intimidation, bullying and discrimination.

“In order to uphold student privacy laws, we cannot share the results of investigations and/or individual discipline. I realize it can be frustrating to not have access to all of the information related to reports or concerns. That said, even when information is not shared, it is important to know that we always follow up on reports of abuse.”

Kingston High School freshman Katie Zehrung says in an email Tuesday that KHS students held a walkout protest Sept. 24 during lunch periods addressing sexual assault and the “lack of response from our teachers and staff to rape and (sexual assault) allegations.” She said there was another protest Sept. 26 in downtown Poulsbo where Kingtson, North Kitsap and Bremerton students gathered on the sidewalks.

“I personally attended both protests, where students held signs and felt brave enough to tell their stories,” Zehrung said. “Tears were shed, hugs were exchanged between friends and stranger students. It was a moment where we had a voice, we had power, in a sad and beautiful way.”

“As a student, I’m familiar with the need to feel important and validated,” she continued. “The victims in my school district know this feeling too; they have been neglected by their authoritative figures.”

A petition called “Hold Rapists in NKSD Accountable” on states that schools in the district have “repeatedly swept cases of rape and sexual assault under the rug. For years…the staff at NKHS and KHS have looked the other way when a student is crying for help.”

The petition goes on to state that over 20 people have come forward in the last week saying how their school has “silenced them for years.”

“These rapists and assaulters have been getting away with this for years, some since they were 12 years old,” the petition reads. “These are your daughters and your sons; your children who are crying for help. We do not feel safe in a school where rapists get to roam free. We — students and parents of NKSD — demand investigations into these rapists. We demand change in our schools, we demand that we have the right to go to school every day and feel safe.”

In his email, Simonson encourages students to report such abuse.

“My pledge to the students and families of Kingston is that we will always take any report of abuse seriously, and we will find ways to get people the help they need,” Simonson went on to say. “Students, I am asking you that if anything is happening to you, especially if you think it could be a crime, please let us know immediately so that we can support you and investigate it quickly. Report it. Say something. All our staff members are mandated reporters. We will act.”

Simonson concluded the email by saying he’s proud of KHS’s Restoration Center support system where the “intent for this space is to support restorative practices and provide comprehensive support to students.” He said the school has hired more staff such as behavior specialists and counselors to “keep up with the increasing needs of students.”

Similar protests took place 1 1/2 years ago in the Bainbridge Island School District on the same topic.