Recent buzz on social media in Evansville is about sexual misconduct and safety of students at the high school, and 22 people gathered Thursday night to discuss the problem and solutions.
They spent 80 minutes discussing the topic without mentioning specific incidents.
Parent and community volunteer Victoria Flynn organized the meeting. She said afterward that comments on the local community Facebook page about one allegation led to an outpouring of allegations of other such incidents.
“How can we make the schools feel safe for these young girls—and boys?” asked a retired teacher.
She didn’t get a direct answer.
Others who spoke at the meeting suggested that part of the problem was harassment or bullying on social media.
Flynn emphasized rules for the meeting, including that no names would be mentioned.
Lt. Patrick Reese of the Evansville Police Department said he couldn’t discuss juvenile cases.
Flynn said the high school principal at first said he would attend the meeting with other officials, but then school officials backed down. Instead, they sent a statement, saying they are obligated to protect students’ privacy.
“We have concluded that attending a meeting organized for the purpose of addressing concerns about a current student made public by social media does not allow us to meet these obligations at this time,” the statement reads.
The statement went on to say the district would “continue to follow all policies and procedures for investigating and responding to complaints of harassment, and where necessary will take steps to stop any harassment and prevent it in the future.”
In a separate interview, Evansville schools Superintendent Jerry Roth said he couldn’t comment on any allegations. He said he thinks the community airing concerns about a student is not appropriate because all the information isn’t known, and it’s largely accusations that haven’t been confirmed.
“We take all concerns seriously, and we address all concerns. It’s just that we can’t and won’t publicly communicate what’s happening,” Roth said.
Roth asked that people not speculate when they don’t have all the facts.
“Unfortunately, everything you read on Facebook isn’t the truth,” Roth added.
“We want to protect every student,” Roth said. “Every student has the right to privacy, whether it’s somebody who is accused or somebody who is accusing. We do everything we can to ensure that we honor that privacy.”
“It’s more than one student. This isn’t about one student,” one woman said after the meeting.
Several speakers at the meeting at Eager Free Public Library expressed frustration that school officials were not present to answer questions.
Those who spoke took pains not to mention anyone’s name or even describe incidents of sexual harassment or assault. They also seemed intent on addressing more than the conduct of one student.
One woman said school officials keep telling her they are taking care of her concerns, but they can’t tell her how.
“It’s just unsettling when incidents keep happening, but ‘It’s being taken care of,’” she said.
Much of the meeting involved questions to Reese, the Evansville police lieutenant, who said he would not discuss specific cases.
“I know the community wants instant results, but that’s not always possible,” Reese said about harassment cases.
Evansville is a safe city, and people should not believe their children will be assaulted or harassed if they send them to school there, Reese said.
“Kids say crazy things sometimes,” Reese said, but if people feel violated or are concerned for their safety, they should call police.
A man asked about the number of sexual misconduct incidents police handled at the high school in the past year.
Reese said he didn’t know, but he said police refer many incidents to juvenile justice authorities.
Much discussion focused on harassment on social media, and Reese said police spend a lot of time tracking down such incidents. He said parents should monitor and regulate what their children do with their computers and phones.
“Let’s face it, the kids, their brains aren’t fully developed yet, and they make some poor choices at times,” Reese said.
Several audience members agreed, and a possible community forum where police could advise parents about steps they can take was discussed.
Flynn offered her services to organize community responses in the future, and some seemed to want to do something further.
Gazette reporter Ben Pierce contributed to this story.