SUDBURY — Hundreds of students at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School walked out of class Monday in response to a sexual assault that allegedly occurred on the campus in November 2013 but did not come to light until last week.
The students, who have criticized the school's handling of the alleged assault, streamed out of the building and walked to the athletic fields behind the school, where they held a moment of silence and gave speeches.
Katie Kohler, one of the organizers of the rally, said the turnout was larger than expected.
"We were blown away by how many students supported this," she said. "I would say more than half of our school came out. It just really shows that the student body is here to support any victims, any survivors, and even if the administration doesn't, the student body does, and I think that's really important to show in our school."
Sophia Fortunato, one of the speakers at the rally, said the walkout brought the issue of sexual assault to the fore, and she hoped it would spark more conversations. "This walkout is not the end; this walkout has to be the beginning of something," she said.
The protest was planned after the students learned last week that a former student filed a federal discrimination lawsuit against school officials, alleging that they failed to properly investigate her accusations of sexual assault and to discipline her alleged attackers. The school system has responded that school officials took "prompt and appropriate action" after the alleged assault, which was investigated by Sudbury police.
Kristen Schuler Scammon, the lawyer representing the former student, said she was not aware of any criminal charges filed against the male students. Sudbury police declined to comment on the case.
Scammon provided a statement that said, "The fact that the students of Lincoln-Sudbury have responded in this way to a lawsuit about events that occurred a few years ago may reflect a bigger problem at the school. We support and appreciate their efforts to make their school safer for all students."
The former student was a sophomore when she reported that two male classmates sexually assaulted her during a football game at the school in November 2013, according to the lawsuit. The assault allegedly occurred on some bleachers and in an unlocked shed at the school's athletic fields, and after the girl reported it, school officials separated the 15-year-old from her classmates, forcing her to sit by herself in an area where students typically served suspensions and detention, the complaint alleges.
Ciara Conway, one of the rally organizers, said learning about the alleged assault from 2013 compelled students to organize the demonstration. "It really hit home and made it personal for all of us," she said.
Some students who participated in the walkout carried signs bearing slogans like "No means no" and "Stop blaming victims and start holding attackers accountable."
Lily Neuhaus, another organizer, said the demonstration was emotional.
"I thought it was the best experience I've had at L-S in my entire life," said Neuhaus. "There was so much cheering . . . I saw people crying."
After they returned to the building, Neuhaus said, organizers set up a booth outside of the cafeteria. There, during lunchtime, they distributed information about sexual assault and resources for victims. They also handed out teal-colored ribbons for students to wear to show their support for survivors of sexual assault, she said.
The district's superintendent, Bella Wong, said she thought the students who organized the rally "did a terrific job."
"I am very proud of how the students comported themselves throughout — they were respectful and attentive to each other and the speakers," she wrote in an e-mail.
In an e-mail to the Globe on Friday, a lawyer for the school system said the reported assault 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 lawyer, 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.' "
The federal office notified school officials that it had concluded its investigation in September 2017. Investigators found that the alleged assault took place "under the bleachers during a game of truth or dare," and that the accused male students were both given suspensions.