High School senior Charles Chandler wasn’t shy about his feelings towards the school officials at Heritage High School in Vancouver, WA during a school ceremony on Wednesday.
During a speech to the students and their families, Chandler imparted advice on underclassmen and lambasted school officials for allegedly turning a blind eye to student safety issues including bullying, sexual assault, and mental health. “And to you, underclassmen, who have to endure all the things the school throws at you for two or three more years.” he said, “A school where the administration closes their eyes to everything that happens at the school. Their school. The sexual assault, the bullying, the depression, the outcasts. They do nothing to fix it.”
A spokesperson for Evergreen Public Schools said the administration had pre-approved Chandler’s speech but he went off-script.
While not a victim of sexual assault or bullying himself, Charles Chandler says “I’ve been going to this school for four years, and I’ve seen these problems, and I’ve seen nothing done about them, and I felt like it was a great place to bring it to light,”
School officials disagreed with Chandler’s accusations. Gail Spolar, a spokesperson for Evergreen Public Schools, told KATU News in an email “His comments were full of inaccuracies, inflammatory statements and hurtful accusations. Administrators called the student in to explain why spreading rumors and inaccurate information was extremely problematic,”
Chandler was offered a choice by school administration to participate in a “restorative solution” or face punishment which included not walking at graduation. He chose to stick to his guns and not participate. He knew there would be consequences but didn’t expect the school to go this far in their punishment. “I don’t think they should be capable of stopping me from walking at graduation for expressing my First Amendment rights,” he told KATU. He was also banned from participating from any school activities leading up to graduation.
Student’s came to Chandler’s defense after his speech and are staging a walkout on Friday to support him. Charles’ friend, Ethan Wheeler, told KATU that he was a victim of bullying and “tried getting help and there wasn’t really much help given.” Students have also started a petition on Change.org with the goal of forcing the school to let Charles walk at graduation. The petition currently has 487 signatures.
Heritage High School’s principal Derek Garrison sent a letter home to parents refuting Chandler’s claims and explaining what had happened. “We work hard at ensuring our students are physically and emotionally safe every day.” the letter reads “We thank you for your support of your children and the school in that common goal.”
Chandler has accepted his punishment and will not walk at graduation.