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Lincoln-Sudbury students plan protest after suit is filed about sexual assault

Eighteen-year-olds Grace Fahey (left), Ciara Conway, Lily Neuhaus, and Katie Kohler from Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School have organized a student walk-out for Monday at 9:30 am. As of Sunday afternoon, they had 131 confirmed walkers. Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Students at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School are planning to walk out of class Monday morning to protest how district officials allegedly handled complaints from a former 15-year-old student who said she was sexually assaulted during a football game in November 2013.

The school's response to the alleged attack is the subject of a federal lawsuit that accuses school leaders of inadequately investigating the girl's report and then ostracizing her. The alleged attackers, both boys, weren't punished, according to the complaint filed April 24.

"This is the perfect example of blaming the victim. It makes me so angry and it makes me feel so unsafe at my school," said Lily Neuhaus, 18, a senior who is helping to organize the demonstration.


In an e-mail to the Globe, a lawyer for the school system said Lincoln-Sudbury officials took "prompt and appropriate action" after the incident, which was investigated by Sudbury police, school administrators, and employees responsible for the district's compliance with Title IX, the law prohibiting discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded education programs.

The attorney, John J. Davis, said the Office for Civil Rights at the US Department of Education investigated the complaints and found "'insufficient evidence' to conclude that the School District had 'failed to promptly and equitably respond.'"

During the walkout, students plan to gather on the bleachers of the school field, where the alleged attack occurred, and stand silently for 15 minutes, a nod to the girl's age, said Neuhaus, who estimated 100 students will participate.

Demonstrators plan to wear teal and display teal decorations at the spot because the color is used to promote sexual assault awareness, she said.

From 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., students plan to staff a booth with information about the warning signs of abusive relationships and hot lines for victims of dating violence and sexual assault, Neuhaus said.


An art teacher gave organizers a large roll of paper that they plan to use to make a sign expressing support for the former student who filed the lawsuit, she said. The plaintiff is now 19 years old and graduated from a private school after the alleged assault, the complaint said.

She alleged Lincoln-Sudbury administrators had her sit alone in an area where students typically served suspensions and detention after she told them about the incident, the lawsuit said. The two male students who allegedly attacked her also sent her text messages in which they acknowledged the encounter and asked for her forgiveness and silence, the complaint said.

Neuhaus and another student, Katie Kohler, 18, said they met with Superintendent Bella Wong on Thursday after reading about the former student's lawsuit in the Globe.
They said Wong appeared to dismiss their concerns.

Kohler's father, John, said he spoke with Wong by phone on Friday and expressed frustration that he didn't learn about the alleged attack until the lawsuit was filed. He said he supports his daughter's activism.

"As a parent I would have appreciated knowing that there was a rape on the campus as my third girl was entering the school," John Kohler said. "Like everything else with Lincoln-Sudbury, it's swept under the rug . . . The people of town are really kind of fed up."

In an e-mail to the Globe on Sunday, Wong said the demonstration is in line with school policies allowing students to assemble to express themselves.


"I will plan to make sure we have staff presence to allow students a safe environment in which to express themselves and to mitigate disruptions to the learning environment if appropriate," she said.

In an e-mail sent Friday to students and their families, Wong described the school's efforts to prevent sexual assault and help victims. The e-mail was fowarded to the Globe.

The school curriculum includes required courses for ninth- and 11th-grade students that address issues of consent and setting personal boundaries, Wong wrote. She said seniors must attend workshops focused on pursuing safe relationships in college and the school added more security cameras last year.

When school officials are informed of an incident that they believe may constitute a crime, Wong said, the police are notified and given the first opportunity to conduct interviews. School officials can't take disciplinary action until police finish their interviews, she said. In a sexual assault case, the school also launches a Title IX investigation, Wong wrote.

A school committee member referred questions to Davis, the lawyer.

Ciara Conway, 18, a senior who is also helping to plan the Monday demonstration, said she spoke with two English teachers after she learned about the allegations in the lawsuit, and they were supportive.

"It was comforting talking to them," Conway said.

Neuhaus said walkout organizers want the former student to know she has their support.

"This girl missed out on so much learning because something happened to her," she said. "She didn't do anything, but she missed out on learning."


Emily Sweeney of the Globe staff contributed. Laura Crimaldi can be reached at laura.crimaldi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @lauracrimaldi.