Five students expelled after protesting Bellevue School District’s handling of assault reports

BELLEVUE, Wash. — Students protested at three different high schools in the Bellevue School District, all calling for change on how the district responds to reports of assault.

The demonstrations continued at Interlake, Sammamish, and Newport high schools on Tuesday after five students were expelled from Newport High School for their roles in a protest on Friday. A student who reported being physically assaulted was among the students expelled.

The chain of events started after that student at Newport High School reported being physically assaulted off campus by another student. The female student reported the incident to school staff, who contacted police. Bellevue police said they launched an investigation and were investigating the case as potential juvenile domestic violence case. Now the case has been referred to the juvenile prosecutor’s office in King County.

However, multiple students said they were upset by how the district responded – in this case as well and other cases.

“It applies to so many students who have to see their abusers at school every single day and the school doesn’t do anything about it,” said Danielle Kim, a senior at Newport High School.

“In situations where someone doesn’t feel safe and they can’t learn because of that, I feel like something should be done,” said Marisa Leinaweader, another Newport student.

The first protest was at Newport High School on Friday. But after that incident, five students were expelled for violating school rules during the protest. The school also went into lockdown on Friday.

A spokesperson for the Bellevue School District,, Janine Thorn, confirmed students were expelled but did not say how many.

“Where we can support our students to peacefully protest and to share their concerns, when that takes a turn and that’s violated per our school board policy, we have to implement a lockdown for the health and safety of all of our students. Unfortunately that was the case,” Thorn said.

Students covering administration offices with sticky notes, as well as using vulgar language were among the rule violations. No one was hurt and Bellevue police said no crimes were committed during the Friday protest.

The expulsion of students has sparked even more anger among students, some who said it felt like the district was trying to silence them.

“I got home and I immediately started crying. I was really upset that would happen. I’m really surprised that’s how the school did that, and I think they could’ve handled it a lot better,” said Leinaweader said.

“Being a victim myself, it was hard seeing that when people do speak up, they just instantly get expelled, whether they’re a victim or not. The whole being silenced is really damaging for them and the other victims in the crowd,” said Samantha Mercado, another Newport student.

Students at Sammamish High School also said they were protesting in solidarity for the students who were expelled. Some said they wanted to bring attention to a problem they believe is district-wide, and not isolated to Newport.

“They should train their staff at BSD schools, even middle schools, to get better at handling these types of situations,” one student speaker said during the walk-out protest at Sammamish High School on Monday.

“They hear it and they just throw it away in their pile of complaints,” said Alastair Lowder, another Sammamish High School student.

Students at Newport did a sit in protest for 50 minutes – 10 minutes for each expelled student - and wrote letters to administration to share their thoughts and changes they hoped to see.

“Victims shouldn’t be punished for wanting to be safe,” one student wrote.

“The least the administration could do is ease us of any uncertainty we may have concerning our own safety at school,” another student wrote.

The district said it worked with school staff and student leaders to support the students in the peaceful demonstrations across the three schools Tuesday.

“This is a teaching and learning moment,” Thorn said. “We always have to be open to conversation. That’s why we’re interested in student voices and hearing our student voices. That’s the whole foundation of learning,” she said.

The district said there are multiple internal investigations ongoing, both into how the school responded after the assault report, as well as the response after the first protest. Any possible policy changes would have to come through Bellevue school board directors, but Thorn said the response process would be looked at closely.

Thorn said additional mental health resources such as safe spaces have been made available for Bellevue students.

Several students, including one impacted student, told KIRO 7 the expulsions are being appealed.