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The “truth” of Fernley High School (opinion)


Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor here.

Submitted by Rhett Shuman

What would you do if your child was being bullied or sexually harassed at their school? School is meant to be a safe learning environment, but what is protocol when that environment is interrupted?

What is the school administration’s job in these situations? What if the school brushed off any and all allegations brought to them by their own students?

These are the questions surrounding a school in your very own backyard–Fernley High School. Administrative staff at Fernley High School have made so many—not just students, but daughters, sons, friends and most importantly human beings—feel unsafe and unheard in their own school.

The controversy about Fernley High School’s administrative staff’s role in sexual harassment cases began over the summer of 2020. Out of this, came a petition titled “Holding Fernley High School accountable.”

As a former student of Fernley High School, I can vouch that this petition was a necessary step in the change for which this school is in dire need. Nearly 1,700 people have signed this petition and people are continuing to sign it to this day.

Once you sign this petition you have the option to leave a comment about why you felt the need to sign. I read every single one of the 85 comments. I was truly sickened at the end, but sadly not surprised. The comments showed that several felt the administration was obscenely absent in many important issues.

The dreadful comments included:

  • “Fernley High School did nothing to protect me from my abuser, except for change MY CLASSES, told me to drop my favorite extracurricular activity, and ultimately lead me to switch schools to escape.”
  • “I’m signing this petition because I personally dropped out of Fernley High School my freshman year due to severe bullying after I was raped and the whole school found out and accused me of lying! I went to my counselors and administration and told them what happened and instead of helping they brushed it off and sent me back to class with my rapist!!”
  • “This school has a serious racial problem. I’ve seen kids get made fun of for being Hispanic, Native, Black, Indian (India), basically everything that isn’t Caucasian by other kids in the school and every time the teachers will turn a blind eye even join the kids. The problem with sexual assault is just as prevalent. Teenagers or even sometime preteens will get taken advantage of by seniors at this school because they’re ‘Mature for their age,’ but if a bigger problem occurs such as r**e or any other form of abuse the boys/girls will get a slap on the wrist depending on if they’re a star athlete or a top student to keep the school’s record clean.”
  • “After being sexually harassed by my math teacher, Mr. Ruff, for the entire time he was my teacher and after and witnessing my other female classmates undergo the same treatment with no consequences for Mr. Ruff. Even after numerous amounts of students filed complaints and asked to be transferred out of his class did nothing to sway our school admin to do something about him. Fernley High has some serious issues and it’s disgusting that these things are still continuing to happen.”
  • “We moved to Fernley 3 and a half years ago and ended up having our daughters attend school online because of the inept management of any concerns brought to staff at Fernley High School. They need a new school and a complete overhaul of the staff!”
  • “They’ve failed us.”
  • “…it got so bad I self-harmed and THEY GAVE ME APEP until my mother took me to West Hills. they didn’t want to deal with me or have other kids see me like . I’d like to personally thank the FHS office staff for my trauma I’m still going to therapy for today.”
  • “I moved my Junior year because of how much I was bullied. I didn’t feel like I had a safe place in Fernley anymore and was in extreme danger of losing my life. From being harassed on the bus, in the lunchroom, in biology class, you name it. Band, aerobics, and drum line were my safe place. I know I had mental issues growing up but that factor has kept me quiet for so long. It’s really no excuse for being a bully and for faculty to ignore it.”
  • “I hated every moment of every day in this sad excuse for a school. I reported my friend’s step-father for beating her. Nothing happened. My other friend reported a boy threatening to shoot her. They said they can’t do anything. One of my friends was literally jumped and the school actively fought against her.”
  • “This is a major issue that they need to be accounted for. I went up to admins about sexual assault that happened to me on several occasions. Instead of taking that kid out of the class or in the other situation making sure we don’t cross paths or helping with a restraining order they just said to try to ignore it. This is why FHS boys are the way they are, because they never got in trouble.”

All of the other comments are just like this, if not worse. They show, from a direct source, that the administrative staff has failed its student body.

“It is apparent that many of his own students do not feel safe at school, yet no one seems to want to admit it.”

I can guarantee that there are many other untold stories and unheard voices just like these, especially because students have been taught by this staff that their voices and hardships do not matter. There are few resources given to the students, and many are even unaware of the counselors who occupy a small office in the library but are often not even there.

However, sometimes not even a counselor can help. One of the counselors provided by the school publicizes private and sensitive information given to her by students. I often felt lost because not even my own school counselor was a safe option. This is where the horrid truth should end, but it doesn’t seem to.

Reno Gazette Journal recently published an article, “Culture of sexual misconduct alleged at Fernley Schools.” The title should be enough to indicate there is a problem, as there should not even be a question that a newspaper over half an hour away should feel the need to report on such a dreadful subject. However, this is the harsh reality of Fernley High School.

The article tells the story of Navdeep Bedi, a Fernley High graduate, who in response to a Twitter post received a number of allegations given to her anonymously by multiple girls. These girls were crying out for change; in each of their situations of sexual assault or harassment no one was held accountable and nothing was done.

In the article, district officials claim that all bullying and harassment policies are followed, however is it evident that this is not the case on too many occasions. When Fernley High School Principal Kent Jones was asked for his input on the situation, he replied, “We do our due diligence in trying to help all students…There’s probably kids out there who don’t necessarily feel the same way. But our goal is to provide them a safe learning environment.”

This reply has frustrated me and other students. It is apparent that many of his own students do not feel safe at school, yet no one seems to want to admit it. The goal is to provide “a safe learning environment,” but what is the importance of a goal without working to achieve it?

The article continues with the story of Savonnah Viegas, a Fernley High School graduate who alleges she was raped in 2014 by one of her peers. The allegation alone should make the administrative staff jump into action to protect their student, but, to no surprise, it was not even close.

Instead, Viegas dropped most of her extracurricular activities and isolated herself at school to avoid her alleged assailant. For administrators at a school for teenagers, it should be basic knowledge that social interaction is crucial to each student and deprivation of such should never be in question. Social interaction is a basic need for all humans.

To decrease interaction more, she was told to leave her classes early, disrupting her learning. This should be enough to start a fire in anyone. She was forced to miss out on things that no teenager should miss out on, because she was the one who was raped.

If this does not anger you, I urge you to think how you would feel if this was your own daughter and you had to watch as the school punished her for her own tragedy. Throughout this entire situation, the bullying never stopped for her. She began to go through a depression that included hospitalizations and medications, and began overeating after developing the mindset of “If I get fat, nobody will bother me.”

No young girl should be subdued to the amount of trauma needed to bring on this mindset. The school’s administration should have been invested enough in their student to see just how bad her situation had gotten, especially since in cases of bullying, “within 10 days, the principal should circle back to the victim to see if the situation has been resolved,” according to district policy.

A case this horrid should involve more participation on the school’s part. The administration is required to investigate every allegation, yet the student’s mother felt she was brushed off and said none of the policies and rules had been followed. She eventually pulled her daughter out of Fernley High School.

The school could have done so much more to aid their students, and they unquestionably should have. But, I contend the school understands they do not take proper precautions. The district and the state’s Department of Education declined numerous public records requests by the RGJ including the number of reports made through SafeVoice, an anonymous reporting system. If the school was receiving immense backlash about how they do not help or participate in their students’ reports, wouldn’t giving out the information about how many students they invested their time in help ease the mind of the angered public? Perhaps this is because the district knows they do not do enough to help their own students.

At the end of the day, there is no argument that the administrative staff of Fernley High School does not do enough to help its students. If any of these girls were daughters of staff members, those staff members would cringe at the utterly appalling action taken to help their situation.

Every signature and comment on the petition and every anonymous girl who shared their story through Navdeep Bedi’s Twitter page is a cry for a change to happen so they may be noticed and heard and feel safe in their own school environment. The case presented in the RGJ story is one of few victims who actually get their stories told.

I ask you, is a school’s motive to keep a clean record more important than addressing these cases of tragedy? They say the winners always write history, and I refuse to let the students of Fernley High School be the ones who don’t have the last word.

My name is Rhett Shuman and I am a former student of Fernley High School. After reading the article put out by the Reno Gazette Journal, I knew I needed to do my part in solving the problem. Even if all I can do is share my thoughts and own knowledge, I am determined to make the most of it. I needed to do my part in solving the problem. Even if all I can do is share my thoughts and own knowledge, I am determined to make the most of it.

Submitted opinions do not necessarily reflect the views of This Is Reno. Have something to say? Submit an opinion article or letter to the editor here.

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