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High school walkout in Kalama: Students support Trans classmate after assault

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Image courtesy of KOIN 6
Image courtesy of KOIN 6

Dozens of students at Kalama High School walked out on June 13, in solidarity with a Transgender classmate who was assaulted in the school's hall.

Shortly after the walkout occurred, the school district was put on lockdown after Kalama police said a student made a "threat of violence" against the students walking out in support of their classmate.

Kalama is a town of less than 3,000 people in Cowlitz County, near Longview.

According to local TV station KOIN-6, the Trans student was repeatedly kicked with steel-toed boots and was subsequently taken to the hospital for treatment. He has returned to class, according to the school district. He was not identified by name in the KOIN story.

Katrina Rick-Mertens, a sophomore at Kalama High School, described the incident to KOIN: "The student had been on the ground, begging [the assailant] to stop, and he just kept going," she said.

The assault occurred on Monday, June 6, as students were leaving school for the day.

Students and parents told KOIN that this assault was part of a pattern of harassment and violence at the school.

In addition to transphobic actions and homophobic remarks, incidents of Nazi salutes in classrooms and locker rooms were described by students in conversations with KOIN. Nazi images are also prominent on social media posts on Kalama community pages.

Student Lillie Cierley said that complaints to school officials brought no results.

"It's just really heartbreaking to not be taken seriously when our lives are at stake," Cierley said.

Cierley and her mother, Melissa, text every hour to ensure she is safe. Melissa Cierley told KOIN that she felt she had to do that after a group of boys sexually harassed Lillie.

"There's a certain population that seems to be able to get away with whatever they want," Melissa Cierley said.

Rick-Mertens and Lillie Cierley said they'd repeatedly told school administrators about incidents that made them feel unsafe at school, but their complaints brought no action from school officials.

"You'd think that after so many students go to them about hate speech and going to them that we need these bullies to stop, that they would do something. We shouldn't have to come to this point to rally together for them to listen to us," Rick-Mertens said.

Kalama School District Communications Manager Nick Shanmac declined to discuss the situation with KOIN, noting the school district's student privacy protections.

"You do have this frustration that it appears on the surface that not enough is being done," Shanmac said. "There are a lot of emotions that we understand it can feel like that, it can feel like nothing is happening."