Student protest forces Lakes High to close early

A protest at Lakewood’s Lakes High School over how the Clover Park School District handled an alleged sexual assault forced the school to close early.
A protest at Lakewood’s Lakes High School over how the Clover Park School District handled an alleged sexual assault forced the school to close early. Tacoma

Lakes High School closed early Monday after 200 students staged a protest over an alleged on-campus assault and the way they learned about it.

The students said they were concerned about their safety and a lack of information from Clover Park School District.

The students were called to action over the weekend after a TV news report aired alleging student-on-student sexual assaults at schools in the school district, including one in May at Lakes.

“Everybody heard it on the news, which made people furious about it, so they wanted to do something about it on Monday,” said sophomore Caleb Antonucci, 15, who participated in the protest.

“We didn’t know a predator was walking the halls,” he said. “Why did they keep it silent from us?”

A 16-year-old special needs girl last week filed a claim for damages against the district, alleging district officials did not do enough to protect her from another special needs student who has a history of sexual assault. Such claims can be precursors to lawsuits.

The girl did not specify how much money she is seeking, but her attorney, Loren Cochran, wrote in the claim that juries in similar cases had awarded $750,000 to $2 million in damages to victims.

According to a Lakewood police report, the girl was attacked May 5 in a Lakes staff bathroom after a substitute bus driver allowed her and the 15-year-old boy to leave a school bus unsupervised.

Cochran contends in the claim that the district knew the boy was dangerous from previous behavior, including an incident from April 2015, but did not take proper steps to protect his client.

“Despite knowledge that (the boy) was not to be left unsupervised at school, Clover Park had no supervision in place at the time of that assault,” the claim states.

School District spokeswoman Kim Prentice said school officials became aware of the May 5 incident minutes after it occurred and immediately involved police.

“As soon as we learned of the incident, school administrators began an investigation,” Prentice said. “We had two separate investigations, one by the district and one by the Lakewood Police Department.”

Prentice said the school district has many student safety policies in place, and others have been added this year.

Faced with Monday’s demonstration, Lakes administrators shut the school down and sent students home before lunch began, sometime after 10 a.m., Prentice said.

“We felt it would have been problematic if the demonstration would continue — and it was continuing because students had chosen not to go back to class — that it would have been more disruptive than it had been,” Prentice said.

The protest began before classes started at 7:25 a.m. and involved 200 of Lakes’ 1,300 students.

“Most of the student body were in class and doing what they were supposed to be doing,” Prentice said.

After first period, “Students were asked to go to their classes,” Prentice said. “But then things morphed and (the students) took the demonstration outside, and it became disruptive to the whole environment at Lakes.”

The protest was never violent, and students were safe at all times, Prentice said.

“It was going to go further,” she said. “We just wanted to stop it.”

School will resume Tuesday (Sept. 27) at its normal time, she said.

Parents were notified of the school closure by automated phone and text messages along with emails.

Special needs students stayed at the school, she said.

The protesting students said they felt they should have been told about the assault instead of learning about it from TV.

“We feel like justice wasn’t served,” said sophomore Justin Montgomery, 15.

He said he attended a Steilacoom High School football game Friday night and told others he was a Lakes student.

“They said, ‘Oh, the school somebody raped somebody at?’ ” Montgomery said.

“So now we’re going to have a bad reputation,” Antonucci said.

Prentice said she understands the students’ concerns.

“We’re trying to balance the privacy of students, and at the same time you have to balance privacy with sharing when an incident occurs,” Prentice said. “It’s a very delicate thing.”

Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.