Students walk out of Portland middle school, demand response to sexual harassment allegations

By Elizabeth Miller (OPB)
Nov. 4, 2021 12:10 a.m.

The walkout led to fights outside of the school, but families say these problems are not new.

Parents of Roseway Heights Middle School students say students have reported and called out numerous instances of harassment. Students say they have been touched, grabbed, or punched by their classmates, and catcalled or called inappropriate names.

By the end of October, administrators at the Northeast Portland school knew students were going to walk out in protest over the school’s response to the problem.


Posters around the school invited students to attend the Nov. 2 walkout accusing teachers and administrators of refusing “to do anything about sexual assault and harassment,” according to a picture of the flyer. Parents of the eighth-graders who organized the walkout say a few students met with Principal Brenda Fox.

In a message to the school community signed by Roseway Heights principal Brenda Fox and Title IX director Dr. Liane O’Banion, the school said they were “aware of and had responded to the incidents in question” and had taken steps to address them. Fox said there would be meetings throughout school this week, with representatives from the PPS Title IX office available to support students.

Parent Kelley Curtis said her eighth-grader, Seren, has been assaulted and harassed by several students. Curtis said a PE class has been especially difficult.

“It seems to just be whatever goes,” Curtis said. “This is one of the biggest arenas of harassment that Seren experiences.”

Curtis said she has filed several complaints under Title IX, the federal civil rights law which guards against sex discrimination. She says she’s gotten little response. Curtis and Seren have both reached out to the school administrators.

“The females do not feel safe, they do not feel supported by the administration, in fact they feel quite the opposite, they feel these boys are being enabled and given a forum to harass them,” Curtis said.

Students at other Portland schools have written about problems with sexual assault and harassment in their school communities, including students at Grant and Franklin high schools.

At Roseway Heights, Seren was one of the students who organized Tuesday’s walkout.

Roseway Heights Middle School students made signs for a walkout Tuesday, Nov. 2, protesting the school's lack of action around sexual harassment allegations.

Roseway Heights Middle School students made signs for a walkout Tuesday, Nov. 2, protesting the school's lack of action around sexual harassment allegations.

Courtesy of Kelley Curtis / OPB

So was eighth-grader Ruth. Paxton Mcbee, Ruth’s father, said his daughter collected more than 15 different stories from current and former Roseway Heights students. Ruth and the other students who organized the walkout shared the stories anonymously on Instagram.

Parents say the walkout resulted in chaos, with students fighting. Catalina Oseguera, a parent of two Roseway Heights students, attended the walkout and saw children hitting each other.


“It was hostile,” Oseguera said. “It was scary as a parent.”

Kelley Curtis said Seren was punched multiple times. Seren did not return to school Wednesday.

Nathan Buehler’s sixth-grader FaceTimed him at recess during the walkout, “showing me a huge mob of people from a distance where fights were breaking out in the center,” Buehler said in a message to OPB. He said classrooms were locked down and his son was pushed to the ground and punched in the stomach.

“School administration and central office staff have been onsite to help keep students safe,” PPS said in a statement shared Tuesday. When OPB on Wednesday asked for the district’s response to the walkout, the district shared the same statement. Parents say there were only a few adults present.

According to school and district administrators, one student suffered a medical emergency and 911 was called. Law enforcement was “available to help if requested.”

School started two hours late at Roseway Heights Wednesday, to give staff time to “prepare to welcome” students, according to a message from principal Fox. Fox said the school will also have a parent meeting this week to discuss how to support students.

The exterior of a brick and stone school building with a grassy lawn out front.

Roseway Heights Middle School in Northeast Portland.

Courtney Sherwood / OPB

But parents of Roseway Heights students say the fighting during Tuesday’s walkout is just one example of a dangerous school culture.

“She already felt unsafe going into the school,” said Oseguera of her eighth-grade daughter.

Parents say there have been almost daily fights on campus, and some parents said they’ve heard rumors of racial slurs being used at the school.

“There’s definitely tension at the school, but... I feel like, the school should be aware that this is going on, whether it’s racist stuff, or whether it’s sexual harassment, or whether it’s bullying,” Mcbee said.

“It’s out of control.”

Mcbee said he’s proud of his daughter and her classmates for standing up for themselves, but that it shouldn’t be their job.

“Here’s these 11- to 14-year-olds who are having to face this,” Mcbee said. “Middle school is hard enough without having to face these issues, and they should feel protected, like they have a place to go if they have a complaint.”

At the same time, he said Ruth is dedicated to continuing to fight until Roseway Heights is a safe place to go to school.

“Ruth told me... this morning, ‘the conversation about sexual assaults is not over, the walkouts are not over. The school needs to know, we’re not done until things change.’”