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District responds to Madison East walkout; thanks students for speaking out

Published: Oct. 14, 2021 at 8:17 AM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - A new statement from the Madison Metropolitan School District thanked the Madison East High School students who walked out of class Wednesday morning to protest administrators’ response to an alleged sexual assault over the weekend, as well as other students who have spoken out in recent years.

“It takes a tremendous amount of courage to engage adults in positions of authority, and we are extremely proud of our students who, through their advocacy and resolve, made their voices heard,” the district wrote in a statement released Thursday morning.

MMSD officials went on to assure students and their families of their commitment to the students’ safety and security and that they take all claims of sexual abuse seriously. To that end, the district added, it will partner with Rape Crisis Center leadership to develop best practices and transparency procedures and offer a support system for students and staff.

The statement came nearly 24 hours after East High students staged the demonstration outside of their school. Clad in red and brandishing signs emblazoned with messages such as “we are not safe” and “kick him out,” the students assembled after leaving their classes shortly after 10 a.m.

Madison East high School students walk out of class on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.
Madison East high School students walk out of class on Wednesday, Oct. 13, 2021.(WMTV/Isabel Lawrence)

During the demonstration, one of the organizers read a statement penned by the young woman at the heart of the protest. 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.

The language of the statement echoed, sometimes nearly word for word, an apology penned by Madison East Principal Sean Leavy regarding his response to questions about the school’s protocols for responding to sexual misconduct during an assembly last week. While Leavy’s apology came out shortly before the student walk-out, the issue he was addressing occurred prior to the incident that led to the protest.

Both statements described the students’ responses last week and stated “(i)t takes a tremendous amount of courage to engage (figures/adults in positions) of authority,” only differing how they specific description of the individuals in authority. In each statement, the principal and the district continued by saying they were “extremely proud of our students” for their “resolve” in speaking out.

MMSD’s Full Statement

We would like to thank MMSD School students who continue to lift their voices this week and over the years on sexual violence policies and protocols. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to engage adults in positions of authority, and we are extremely proud of our students who, through their advocacy and resolve, made their voices heard. Honoring students’ perspectives provides opportunity for growth as we continue to refine district policies and protocols.

The safety, security, and well-being of all of our students remains our priority. As a district, we take reports of sexual violence very seriously. The district is partnering with Rape Crisis Center leadership to offer best practices, transparency and necessary supports to students and staff.

Madison Metropolitan School District Official Statement

NBC15 News reached out to the Madison Police Dept. regarding any reports of a sexual assault and we were told there was an active and ongoing investigation. However, the department declined to reveal any details about the report or what investigators have found.

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