JFK students hold sit-in to bring awareness to sexual harassment in school

  • John F. Kennedy Middle School on June 22, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • The sign for John F. Kennedy Middle School on June 22, 2017. —GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

  • Some students at Northampton’s John F. Kennedy Middle School want to call attention to the issue of sexual harassment at the school. GAZETTE STAFF/CAROLINE O'CONNOR

Published: 6/22/2017 9:43:51 PM

NORTHAMPTON — More than 30 students held a sit-in Thursday morning at JFK Middle School to raise awareness about sexual harassment they say students have experienced from their peers.

Those involved said participants — boys and girls — sat in a hallway near the front entrance holding signs for about two hours. They also briefly marched through the school, including onto the cafeteria stage, according to those present.

“I really just wanted to speak out and make sure girls and boys who have been sexually harassed have the voice to speak up,” said Gabby Adorno, an eighth-grader and one of the organizers. “Many feel like they can’t, and I want to change that.”

Adorno said she experienced sexual harassment in class this year from a group of boys who played a game in which one would intermittently say “boom” and the rest would look at her backside.

She said she brought the issue to the attention of administrators, who couldn’t tell her how they punished other students, but she said she was told this behavior was common for boys their age.

“It shouldn’t be a normal thing that kids do,” Adorno said.

When Adorno told administrators she was uncomfortable sitting in class with the boys after the incidents, she said administrators suggested she sit in the library or other areas for about a week during their shared classes.

She said it bothered her she was removed from class instead of the boys, but punishment for the boys is not her biggest concerns. Her main interest is bringing the issue of sexual harassment to the public’s attention.

Superintendent John Provost said the district does not tolerate sexual harassment and follows the school handbook for discipline in such situations.

The 2013-14 JFK handbook, the most recent handbook posted on the district’s website, states sexual harassment, verbal or physical, will be punished with a minimum of a one-day suspension for the first offense. Punishments escalate after the first incident.

“We agree 100 percent with the students’ message, though we disagree with the method of cutting class,” Provost said.

He added that he appreciates that the students were peaceful but would have preferred they work with administrators to create an event that would “align with the educational mission of the district,” such as a teach-in about sexual harassment.

Aria Schotland, another eighth-grade student, also participated in the sit-in. She said a student once slapped her rear end while she was getting a drink at a school water fountain, and she has friends who have experienced similar things.

She said she thought the sit-in was a success because some students asked her about their cause during the demonstration.

“A lot of kids didn’t know things were happening,” Schotland said. “Now they know, which was the point — awareness.”


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