Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer Lena, Meghan and Bob Arkell speak about Meghan’s experience in hopes it will make a difference for other students.

School safety criticized

Student says sexual assaults not addressed, district defends policies.

A student and her parents say a Salmon Arm school should be doing more to protect students from assaults. The school district says it has done and is doing everything it can.

Meghan Arkell, a Grade 10 student at Salmon Arm Secondary’s Jackson campus, would like to see more school-wide education and assemblies about bullying, sexual assaults and sexual harassment. Her parents, Bob and Lena Arkell, agree.

Meghan sent a statement to the Observer on May 29, which was also posted around the Internet. She stated she was sexually assaulted three times by three different Jackson campus boys.

In an interview with the Observer, Meghan said that early in Grade 9 she was one of a few girls who a boy would, “punch us a lot and touch us where he shouldn’t.”

She said the girls told school administration and police were called, but “police decided there was not enough evidence.”

She says the boy was expelled.

Citing privacy legislation, neither the police nor the school will comment on specific incidents or students.

“While not speaking about specific cases, our office does investigate serious matters referred to us by agencies in our community which includes our local school district,” wrote Staff Sgt. Scott West in an email. “We conduct investigations into these matters and where appropriate provide information to Crown Council who have the purview to carry out the formal charge approval process in the province of British Columbia.”

Another incident occurred when a boy asked her out, Meghan says.

“I decided to rebel and go with him to hang out,” but “he decided to take me into the forest and tried to rape me.”

She said it was at least a month before a friend convinced her to tell someone. She did, and says the boy was suspended for a couple of days.

Her dad Bob says he and Lena spoke to school administration, but weren’t satisfied as they were told the boy had problems of his own.

“I was really upset,” Bob told the Observer, explaining he was once badly beaten. “I have a background where I was once left for dead, and I was afraid she’d end up in the same situation.”

Meghan says she thinks the school should have stuck to its policy of telling the police.

“That’s what gets me mad about it – they say if anything like this happens they’d go straight to the police. They didn’t. They didn’t do anything about it.”

In a May 31 letter to parents and guardians, SAS principal Reid Findlay wrote: “First off, I want to assure you the safety of our students is always our top priority. Please be assured that we are committed to providing a safe learning environment for our students and we take all reports of assault, or any threat to student safety, very seriously. If a student is assaulted, we ask it please be reported as soon as possible. Our school team can help the student and family make a formal report to the RCMP. At the same time, we have the responsibility to support the accused through the process. As such, we are not the judge and jury in matters such as this. We also take seriously our responsibility to educate students around the issues of boundaries and consent.”

Meghan says she was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder and began self-harming after the incident with the second boy.

“I thought it was something to get it off my mind. It almost worked, and then I had this (self-harming) problem, which was worse.”

Lena says she and Bob started driving Meghan to school because she didn’t want to ride the bus, fearing retaliation.

“We’ve had to watch her go from a happy, outgoing little girl to one who’s afraid of her shadow.”

Bob and Lena say they’ve decided to sell their house and move, to try to protect their daughter.

Meghan says she’s OK with the plan.

“I don’t want to leave my friends, but honestly, it’s the better choice as I don’t want to go up to Sullivan (the campus where she could go next) and see those guys.”

Meghan says the third boy was at first a kind of friend, but started touching her in ways she didn’t want.

One day he did something, she says, which prompted another friend to punch him.

The friend got in trouble at the school but the boy did not, she says.

Meghan did say that a teacher and a school counsellor have been supportive of her and she appreciated their help.

In her May 29 post, Megan also wrote: “There was just an assembly about Snap Chat and how we need to be nicer on social media. But this assembly took place because the teachers got “bullied,” if it was only the students they never would have brought this up!!! The school needs to be working on keeping it a safe place for us, the students!”

In the statement to parents issued May 31 by principal Reid Findlay, he refers to allegations that the school is more concerned about teachers being the targets of online harassment than students.

“I can assure you that nothing could be further from the truth.”

Megan says she thinks assemblies should be held to talk about bullying, assaults and sexual harassment, emphasizing it’s wrong and there will be consequences.

“They have bullying day and wearing pink, but it happens all the time. Talking about it one day a year does nothing as it happens all the time.”

On May 31, the North Okanagan-Shuswap School District also issued a statement on how reports of assaults are handled, what is being done proactively and how anyone who is triggered by recent events can access help.

It states all reports of sexual assaults, “or anything affecting student safety, are responded to and taken seriously by the school district and its schools. In fact the school district has a duty to report serious allegations to the RCMP.”

It states if there is a sexual assault report, school counsellors, administration and the RCMP would be involved.

“After investigating, the school may suspend those accused and a district hearing may be held. Before the hearing a Violence Threat Risk Assessment may also be completed. This involves a multidisciplinary agency team that collects data, evaluates risk, and determines interventions.”

The statement also refers to Dianne Ballance, the district’s Safe Schools coordinator: “Ballance confirms that assault allegations from last year, which have come to public attention through social media, followed these procedures and RCMP were involved. She adds the school district has contacted the family involved to arrange a meeting to hear their concerns.”

All students in Grade 10 take a class on drug- and alcohol-induced sexual assaults, and the school’s counsellors go to each advisory class to present on mental health and healthy relationships, specifically dealing with the topic of consent.

It also states: “Ballance would like to raise awareness with parents about the added complexity social media plays. ‘Information, or perhaps misinformation or speculation is shared and can raise anxiety levels and have harmful effects, not only for the accused but often for the victim.’