More than 1,000 students are expected to stage a walkout at Guyer High School on Friday morning to protest what some parents are calling a culture of sexual harassment, coercion and aggression against female students in Denton ISD middle and high schools.
The protest has been sparked by allegations of a sexual assault that happened on the Guyer campus last week.
On Oct. 7, the Denton Police Department received a report of a sexual assault involving two Guyer High students.
Allison Beckwith, a spokesperson for the police, said the department believes the alleged assault happened on the Guyer campus on Oct. 6. The accuser, a 15-year-old girl, was taken to a hospital, and the boy she’s accusing of sexually assaulting her is 17.
The Denton Record-Chronicle is naming neither the accuser nor the football player named in an online petition as the assailant, as there have been no arrests made. The accused student played in Guyer’s football game last Friday, after the police report was filed.
In a statement, Denton ISD officials said they were recently made aware of the allegations and that they’re working with the families involved. Julie Zwahr, a spokesperson for the district, said Wednesday the district learned about the alleged assault sometime last week, but she said she didn’t know the exact date the information was received.
The statement says the district’s top priority is the safety and well-being of its students and staff.
Two parents who spoke with the Record-Chronicle said they hadn’t received any communication from the school district by Tuesday morning regarding the alleged assault.
Asked about this, Zwahr said the district was operating on the Police Department’s timeline. She said the district is limited in what it can share and that it is trying not to compromise the investigation.
“We are waiting on the results of the Denton Police Department’s investigation before moving forward [with our own],” Zwahr said.
She said the names people are seeing online may not be true and that the district can’t share any information on the parties involved since they’re both under 18.
“We see all of it on social media,” Zwahr said. “We can’t verify if any names are true.”
Contacted Wednesday night by telephone, Guyer head football coach Rodney Webb declined to comment on the allegations and referred all questions to Zwahr.
Two parents said the alleged assault has resulted in plans for a student-led walkout on Friday, a protest against what some students say is the campus and district’s inaction on sexual harassment and assault, and the perception that male student-athletes are especially protected from consequences.
Crystal Cunningham said she and other parents want answers and action from school officials. Cunningham has a daughter who is a sophomore at Guyer and has experienced harassment at the hands of male classmates, she said.
When word began to spread that an assault had happened at Guyer, Cunningham said parents thought they might get a notice or statement from school officials about the alleged crime and their plans to address it.
“There has been zero notice from the school that a sexual assault happened on school grounds,” Cunningham said. “My daughter is angry, frustrated. This, of course, brings up things for her as well. Not just her but all the other girls. Unfortunately, it is common practice in the school, not only physically but verbally.”
Cunningham’s daughter relayed a story to her about a female student who refused when a male student asked her to show her genitals in the hallway.
“She got upset, and when she wouldn’t do it, supposedly another boy said to some other boys, ‘Well, we should just rape her,’” Cunningham said.
Lantana resident Jennifer Jenkinson told the Record-Chronicle her daughter, now a senior at Guyer, was assaulted in 2018 by the same student accused in the Oct. 6 assault.
Her daughter was attending Harpool Middle School with the accused as an eighth grader. The alleged attack happened in a park, where her daughter believed she would be going on her first date.
“It turned out to be something way worse,” Jenkinson said. “I have screenshots of her, after the fact, telling him that she was trying to get him to stop. She said no, he kept going. After the fact, she told him, ‘I didn’t consent to any of that. I tried to tell you no.’ And he was like, ‘OK, cool. I guess I have to move on.’”
Jenkinson and her husband reported the incident to Denton police. She said that because there were no witnesses or evidence, the department declined to investigate but told the family officers would talk to the boy and his family and “scare him.” Even with screenshots of the students’ conversations, Jenkins said, police didn’t feel they had a strong case.
“They chalked it up to ‘boys will be boys,’” she said. “‘He probably didn’t understand what he was doing, your daughter went to the park.’ It was a very bad experience with Denton police.”
More frustrating is the campus’ and district’s response to ongoing sexual harassment against female students, Jenkinson said. After her daughter’s alleged assault, she said the school wouldn’t take disciplinary action against the accused or even move her daughter away from him in the classes they were in together.
Then the accused and Jenkinson’s daughter would go on to Guyer, where she and he have had a class together every year.
“There’s a problem in Denton ISD, because they hide behind Title IX; they say, ‘Oh, this happened off campus,’ or ‘This happened at a different campus,’” Jenkinson said. “And that’s one of the biggest issues. They don’t treat Title IX as transferring from campus to campus. So a kid can assault a girl in eighth grade, and then they all end up at the same high school.”
Jenkinson said her daughter suffered post-traumatic stress disorder after the assault. Her grades dropped, she lost weight and started to have severe anxiety and depression. The family could have removed her from school, but Jenkinson said her daughter was flourishing in the Guyer theater arts program, which is among the best in the state. Her daughter plans to study theater in college, she said.
Jenkinson said the licensed counselors on staff at Guyer eventually helped her family get an accommodation for their daughter to have some physical distance from the boy accused of hurting her. The family sought private counseling for her, too.
“I’m tired of getting the text on the first day of school every year: ‘Mom, he’s in my class,’” Jenkinson said.
Jenkinson and Cunningham said parents have gotten involved out of frustration over the district and school administration response, and because they want to see broad, systemic change in school responses to accusations of harassment and assault.
“We get an email if a kid has COVID, but we don’t hear anything about our girls being on campus with someone who has assaulted girls,” Jenkinson said. “If I got an email about something like this, I could have a conversation with my daughter and a different conversation with my son, which would be about consent and how he should treat women the way he would want someone to treat his sister. But if you don’t get that communication, those conversations won’t happen.”
Parents want the district to create a policy and procedures to address sexual harassment and assault, Jenkinson said, and a way to file an official report to the campus and the district.
“Accountability is one of the big things,” Cunningham said. “I find it sad, in our society and culture, that our daughters and our sons can’t have that open conversation and feel like they’re going to be heard. Has there been any counseling? Has there been anything else done for these girls since then? I don’t know, but I don’t think so.”
Cunningham said parents will also attend the walkout wearing T-shirts or ribbons made for the protest, and holding signs they’ve been making.
“Parents are involved now because they want the girls to be heard,” Jenkinson said. “We wouldn’t be sitting here if they felt like the school has heard them.”