By James Lomuscio
Avery Landon said she and the Staples High School boy had been friends, and she didn’t want to ruin her classmate’s life.
Superintendent: there is an ongoing sexual harassment and assault awareness campaign at Staples. (CLICK TO ENLARGE) Lynn U. Miller for WestportNow.com
That’s why she didn’t go to the police to report his unwanted advances, touching and groping, things that happened off campus. Still, she said she wanted it to stop and not spill over onto campus.
To that end, Avery and three other girls who had similar experiences with the same boy, this year went to Richard Franzis, the school’s vice principal. He is also Title IX coordinator who addresses sexual harassment and assault reports.
Unhappy with the results, three of the girls and Avery’s mother Stephanie Landon surprised school officials at Monday night’s Board of Education meeting by speaking out, saying the administration let them down.
They chose that meeting as it was the night the school board was set to approve, which it did, a number of policies, including a policy on sexual harassment and assault.
Today, Stephanie Landon recalled her and her daughter’s frustrations.
“The boy’s parents were called into the school where the charges against him were read, and he was given a stern talking to and advised to stay away from these four girls,” she said. “That was the extent of his consequence.”
The mother also said she was unhappy with Franzis’s official report.
“I was shocked to find his summation to be a thoroughly watered-down version of my daughter’s report, glossing over the severity of the incident and what’s worse, depreciating how impactful this incident was to her,” she said.
“It even went so far as to say that my daughter didn’t appear to be ‘uncomfortable’ at school, when in fact, she had reported that she felt uncomfortable every day,” the mother added. “My daughter felt betrayed and I was angry. How do we empower our girls for coming forward, when we fail to validate them for doing so?”
In an ironic twist, Stephanie Landon said, “We were told not to create a hostile environment for him.”
Though Avery did not speak Monday night, she said she wanted to speak out today “because I know of other people who came forward with sexual assault and harassment and nothing has really been done.”
“It really didn’t look like it was going to stop if nothing was said,” she added.
Avery said that she and the boy no longer talk.
“He was told to stay away from me even though we have classes together,” she said.
Schools Superintendent Colleen Palmer said she and board members were unaware that the students would be coming forward to speak Monday night.
She also said the schools have had an ongoing sexual harassment and assault awareness campaign underway throughout the year.
“We’ve had a full-court press in our district, making students well aware of reporting opportunities,” she said.
Palmer, along with John Bayer, the district’s human resources director, said that if such an assault happens on campus, the schools’ first response is to contact the Westport Police Department.
And if it occurs off campus, the victim should contact the police first and make school officials aware, so that such behavior does not continue on campus.
Palmer said she did not want to speak on the specifics of the girls’ complaints. However, she said girls’ comments would bring about a change for making girls more comfortable coming forward —- having a female Title IX trained professional.
“We listened carefully to their comments,” said Palmer, adding that “it is my duty to follow up behind the scenes.”
When told Palmer said he was considering a female Title IX counselor, too, Avery was pleased, saying it would make girls feel more comfortable about coming forward.
“That definitely is a positive,” she said.