AURORA | Concerns over a middle school fight shared on social media and a sexual assault case at Grandview High School dominated public comment at the second-to-last Cherry Creek board of education meeting of the school year, with one speaker voicing concern that the district is in the news “for all the wrong reasons.”
According to an article from Denver7 last week, an instagram account called “Lib_Fights2022” had posted 11 videos this year, including one from May 3 that showed a student being pinned to the ground and beaten at Liberty Middle School.
In an email to parents, Liberty principal Kevin Doherty said that the school is aware of the account and will investigate any information it can gain from the videos. The district’s practice is to report these kinds of social media accounts to get them taken down, he said.
“Violence of any kind is not tolerated at Liberty Middle School, and students found to be involved in violent incidents face serious disciplinary consequences from school and may face legal repercussions as well. We are supporting the police in their investigation,” he said.
At the board meeting, several parents urged the district to take a harder line against school violence.
“Taking down the site and contacting students is a weak response,” parent Nate Jecminek said. “My hope is that the school district adopts a strict policy to remove these students from our schools, not just those who perform the beatings but those propagating violence by posting the videos on social media sites.”
District spokesperson Abbe Smith said that as soon as the administration was made aware of the fight it contacted the police, which investigated the incident. Students found to be involved were disciplined, but for privacy reasons Smith said the district could not give more details.
The district occasionally sees accounts documenting purported school fights pop up, Smith said, but cannot verify that they all take place at Cherry Creek schools. Sometimes people who see fights on social media contact the news before the district, which can slow down investigations.
“We would just ask if a student sees a fight or records a fight, they let the school know right away so we can get involved and investigate,” she said.
Several parents also discussed walkouts that took place at several Cherry Creek high schools last month over frustrations with how the district handles sexual assault allegations.
The walkout stemmed from a case at Grandview High School, where a 16-year-old female student was allegedly groped by a classmate. The victim’s parents told KDVR that despite the alleged perpetrator facing misdemeanor criminal charges, the district had repeatedly delayed an investigation and did not do anything to punish the student or separate him from the victim beyond making him sign a no-contact order.
District officials earlier told The Sentinel that the article was inaccurate, but did not elaborate.
In a follow-up article from April 29, KDVR reported that the district suspended the student for four weeks, through the end of the school year, with an exception allowing him to come to campus to take one AP test.
The article said that the victim’s parents were “furious” that the suspect may be allowed to return to school in the fall and that it took the district so long to make a decision.
Smith said that the four-week suspension was not accurate, but that for student privacy reasons she could not give any details.
In an email to district families following the walkout, Superintendent Chris Smith said that the district takes all allegations seriously and stands in solidarity with victims.
During the meeting, board member Kristin Allan reiterated the superintendent’s comments.
“I stand in solidarity with the victims of sexual assault and harassment,” Allan said. “I also applaud the courage and commitment of our young people who gathered peacefully and used their voices to call attention to this critical issue.”
Parents who spoke at the meeting said they were not impressed by the district’s response.
“Families have shared that the district has failed to provide student victims with a safe learning environment, failed to properly address Title IX complaints, failed to implement no contact policies and failed to communicate with families,” one parent said. “A pattern of negligence is apparent.”
The victim “deserved not to have to see the person who damaged her every day for months while we figured it out,” parent Melissa Scully said. “We need to do more.”
MacKenzie Sleesman, a junior who organized a walkout at Cherokee Trail High School, told The Sentinel that offenders face little consequences and that no contact orders between perpetrators and their victims are not enforced.
“In a classroom if something’s not working, you change it,” she said. “If the no contact agreement is not working, change it.”
She said she was also frustrated that the district acted like the protests were to raise awareness about sexual assault in general, and not about specific grievances with the district.
“There needs to be some consequences for those kids, not just a pat on the back and send them on their way,” she said.
The final board meeting of the school year is scheduled to take place on Monday, June 13 at Infinity Middle School in Aurora.