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Madison East students walk out to support alleged sexual assault victim

Published: Oct. 13, 2021 at 10:48 AM CDT|Updated: Oct. 13, 2021 at 7:21 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Scores of Madison East High School students walked out class Wednesday morning to express support for a young woman who was reportedly sexually assaulted at a party over the weekend.

Clad in red and brandishing signs emblazoned with messages such as “we are not safe” and “kick him out,” the students gathered in front of the school to protest the school’s response to the allegations and demanded the alleged perpetrator be kicked out of school.

During the demonstration, one of the organizers read a statement to protestors penned by the young woman they were there to support. In it she wrote, “I am so grateful to have that group of young, gorgeous girls with me after that night, washing me and wiping my tears. You made me feel so strong. And, to all the young men who have been willing to be a part of this movement, thank you.”

Feliz Castaneda, a senior at East and an organizer of the walk out, said she hopes the alleged victim knows she has student support. Castaneda said the house party where the alleged sexual assault took place was at her home, and says the young woman is a friend of hers.

“It’s just empowering for the victim honestly, that’s all we wanted to do,” she said. “We wanted to make sure the victim knows that her voice was heard and we weren’t going to sit here and let them keep this kid in our school instead of seeking justice for her. That’s what we’re here for.”

NBC15 News has reached out to the high school and the Madison Metropolitan School District for a response to the protest and will update this story with any statement.

None of the circumstances surrounding the alleged sexual assault have been released at this time.

Principal apologizes for assembly

Prior to the demonstration, Madison East Principal Sean Leavy sent a note to families apologizing for his response to questions about how the school’s Behavior Education Plan handled sexual misconduct, saying that it “left some students and staff feeling dismissed, upset and unsupported.”

“My response was too technical and did not meet the needs of our students and staff,” he added. Leavy went on to compliment the students who urged him at that time to clarify what he meant, noting that they showed a “tremendous amount of courage to engage figures of authority.”

Leavy’s four-paragraph apology did not detail his response, the specific concerns it caused, and the interactions that occurred during the assembly, nor did it address the student walkout that was coming later in the day.

The letter did not clarify what instigated the assembly on the school’s response plan. However, school officials had gathered students together for the session last week, which would have been prior to the alleged sexual assault occurring.

Read the full letter:

Dear East High School Community,

During an assembly on the “Behavior Education Plan and Standard Response Protocol” last week, questions surfaced about how sexual misconduct is addressed in the Behavior Education Plan. I would like to apologize for how my response left some students and staff feeling dismissed, upset and unsupported. My response was technical and did not meet the needs of our students and staff.

Our team would like to thank the students who lifted their voices to challenge me to clarify my response. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to engage figures of authority and I am extremely proud of our students who have shown so much resolve in stating their concerns.

Please know, the culture we strive to cultivate at East high School is one in which every student and staff member feels safe, respected, valued and supported. Again, I apologize for falling short in my communication. Moving forward we will continue to walk and work together.

Our leadership team is working with Central Office staff to create spaces for students and staff to process around this issue. We will also be deepening our understanding of past trauma at East High School in order to better engage our students, staff and families.

Sincerely,

Sean Leavy, Principal, East High School

correction: A previous version of this article indicated the alleged victim was a classmate of the students protesting. NBC15 has learned the young woman was not yet enrolled at the school and the article has been updated to reflect new information.

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