The steps forward

Recreating and maintaining safe spaces in school

Senior Taylor Goodrich remembers the laminated posters tacked on the walls of her elementary school declaring the classroom a safe space. Following the arrest of Goodrich’s former English teacher Andrew McGreevy, this security at school has been put into question.

The Omaha Police Department announced the arrest of McGreevy for sexual assault charges on Tuesday, Aug. 18, after opening an investigation following phone calls to MN concerning McGreevy’s behavior this summer. 

None of the current charges took place in the MN community or involved a member of Millard. Yet, many students are still troubled realizing an adult they were supposed to trust committed such actions.

“I felt uncomfortable knowing that the situation [assault] happened and he moved on with his life, teaching kids,” Goodrich said.

The colorful signs declaring schools as a haven can only do so much after an arrest of this magnitude.  A report from the U.S. Department of Education found that one in 10 students will experience school employee sexual misconduct by the time they graduate high school. In the report, sexual misconduct is defined as “a broader term that includes abuse but also encompasses acts that are not criminal but may violate ethical codes.”

Undoubtedly, safe spaces are necessary for educational and emotional development in schools. It is essential we examine what we can do as a school to reestablish a safe environment and start a conversation regarding sexual assault.

The Omaha Women’s Fund Domestic and Sexual Violence Project Manager, Christon MacTaggart said there are individuals who will harm others everywhere and prevention lies in education.

“There’s a really big impact schools can have by acknowledging assault and naming it and creating a culture where it’s talked about,” MacTaggart said. 

MacTaggart cites comprehensive education as the most effective way to develop a culture that “a person who harms other people” can’t survive in. 

Sexual assault invites a culture of shame according to experts. The best way to combat this stigma is by discussing topics such as the broad definition of consent, bodily autonomy, and harassment in relationships.

This must be an ongoing dialogue not isolated to a semester-long class once in four years.

While it is a demanding task to integrate educational programs and resources into an already academically rigorous institution, prevention of sexual assault should take priority over the responsive measures when it occurs.

Prevention Specialist from the Women’s Center for Advancement, Lizzie Hudson, said transparency and open conversations in school are key to creating a safe educational environment.

“If we as a society take more action to prevent violence from occurring, then we would not need to be as reactionary,” Hudson said.

To develop an accessible and open culture where assault and harassment are reported, students need to know they have resources they can utilize and adults they can go to in school if they experience harassment of any kind.

Outside of the dating violence and healthy relationship curriculum discussed in Everyday Living classes, counseling staff is always available to negotiate student concerns.

“We want every student to have one person they are comfortable talking to,” school social worker, Rachel Vacek said. “The important thing is having that dialogue and the education piece of knowing it’s [a case] going to get to the right people.”

In addition, School Resource Officer John Martinez is trained to handle instances of sexual misconduct and help students navigate the legal process. The Safe Schools Hotline can be used as a reporting method outside of school hours. 

“I would also encourage students to reach out to any administrator, teacher, or trusted adult when they have any concern,” MPS Director of Communications, Rebecca Kleeman said.

While sexual assault cases are uncomfortable and incredibly difficult to talk about, they must be acknowledged, so students, staff, and the MN community can move forward.

This is an opportunity for change. Part of maturing and being a high schooler is realizing those posters won’t protect our vulnerabilities. It is up to us, to be introspective, start conversations, and recreate our safe spaces.