Earlier this summer, Lowell High School (LHS) posted a statement on Instagram. “The Lowell Community Equity Committee (CEC) is disturbed by the recent reports of sexual violence and verbal abuse allegations by students and teachers on campus. The acts described in the allegations are reprehensible. We want to uplift the voices of the courageous students who have come forward to speak their truth.”
The announcement followed numerous social media posts alleging that Lowell High School had poorly handled reports of sexual harassment among its students, which may have occurred over several years. Posters asserted that other San Francisco schools, public and private, including Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory, had similarly mishandled claims, with several male students identified as perpetrators of sexual assault.
“SFUSD is aware of the various allegations related to Lowell and is in the process of following up with current and former students who have made online reports or have contacted us directly,” said Laura Dudnick, San Francisco Unified School District (SFUSD)’s public relations manager. “When any incident is reported, SFUSD takes steps to immediately investigate and ensure that students receive support to help them feel safe at school.”
SFUSD declined to release any specifics about the allegations, including whether current students or teachers have been accused, or how any physical or mental issues of potential survivors have been addressed.
Sexual assault allegations in schools fall under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972. According to SFUSD’s website, the law “prohibits sex discrimination in education, including K-12 schools. Title IX is a federal law that has been used to promote equity in education by ensuring that girls and women receive equal resources and treatment in the classroom and provides protections for students who are sexually harassed and discriminated against and/or bullied based on their gender.”
In 2017, a Galileo High School graduate filed a Title IX lawsuit against SFUSD for not protecting her from another student after she reported that the student had inappropriately touched her on multiple occasions. The abuser was expelled from Galileo, but was allowed to re-enroll in a different San Francisco high school and continued to harass the victim. SFUSD settled for $325,000 after it deemed “The initial response from the school site was inadequate,” according to the San Francisco Examiner.
Also in 2017, an Everett Middle School principal was removed after only a week on the job when it was discovered he’d failed to report a physical education teacher’s sexual assault of two students two years prior at John O’Connell High School, where he was then principal.
“Former O’Connell student, Alysha Stone, was one of the whistleblowers who reported her soccer coach and PE teacher Bob Gamino to the school in May of 2017,” according to CBS Bay Area. “Then 30 more girls came forward with similar stories of inappropriate behavior by Gamino. Alvarado’s failure to report Gamino allowed him to work at the school for two more years. Because of that, the District transferred Alvarado to Everett Middle School but never notified parents.”
The Lowell CEC was started by the nonprofit San Francisco Coalition of Essential Small Schools (SF-CESS) and consists of a “working group of LHS stakeholders that include parents, alumni, staff, and students that have been working since 2019…committed to creating a more equitable community so that students, staff and families feel safe and valued,” according to an Instagram post.
“The mission of the SF-CESS is to interrupt and transform current and systemic educational inequities to ensure all students have access to personalized, equitable and high performing schools that believe and demonstrate each student can, should and will succeed,” said Gregory Peters, SF-CESS executive director.
At Lowell, SF-CESS helped create the CEC to vet equity issues, observe classroom culture and educate decision makers. The CEC is purely advisory; it doesn’t have any policy making authority.
“One challenging aspect of working with a school like Lowell is that it’s actually more like a small city with very established norms. We spent the entire first year working with Lowell just on designing our communication to work with the school.” said Peters.
“At the beginning of every school year, all SFUSD employees are required to complete a Mandated Reporter training annually. The Office of Equity also conducts yearly in-person training across the district regarding issues of Sexual Harassment and Title IX for administrators, social workers, wellness, counselors/deans, and conducts various school staff training.” said Dudnick. “In August, Lowell will begin implementing a comprehensive plan to address many of the concerns raised in the past few weeks. These plans will include educational opportunities for students and professional development for faculty and staff in the fall, as well as an increased level of communication amongst all stakeholders to ensure that there is clarity regarding roles and responsibilities at all levels.”
Dudnick did not respond to queries about whether the plan to address Lowell students’ concerns would specifically relate to sexual assault allegations.