NORTH BEND — At 10:26 a.m. on Wednesday, nearly 100 students walked out of North Bend High School.
The walkout was done in protest to the North Bend School District’s decision to remove Principal Bill Lucero from the high school, as part of its settlement with the American Civil Liberties Union of Oregon.
Lucero stepped outside with them to encourage the students to do well in their classes over the next two to three weeks before school ends for the summer. When he told them it was time to go back inside, the crowd hugged him to chants of “Free Bill.”
What wasn’t as obvious as the tears on some faces was a petition being passed between hands. By the time The World saw it, a page and a half had already been filled with signatures.
“I hope the district changes their minds because he’s the best principal,” Hailie Kiser told The World before going back to class. “He has helped me and I’ve accomplished so much here. It wouldn’t be the same with someone different.”
Student Jakob Rudolfs said he was shocked by the Oregon Department of Education investigation and the outcome with the settlement, saying he felt “people just want to get stuff done to a man who doesn’t deserve it.”
He referenced current student Liv Funk and 2017 graduate Hailey Smith, who reported discrimination from district staff and students. Their complaints included a friend being forced to read the Bible as punishment, which was corroborated by the district in the ODE investigation. Funk and Smith reported instances of being bullied for their sexual orientation, which they said went ignored by the district.
Though the district reached a settlement agreement and ODE held an investigation, the students standing in the rain on Wednesday told The World they still loved Lucero and that perhaps investigators didn’t talk to everyone.
“The situation is unfortunate and we feel it could be dealt with differently,” said student Seth Terry. “We are doing this because we want to show the community we stand with Bill, there are a lot of kids that respect him and look up to him.”
Terry explained that the student-led petition is represented in #FreeBill and that petitions can be signed in any classroom at the high school. These petitions are only for students, but he said “for a staff member to sign would be awesome.”
Students hope the petition will reverse Lucero’s part of the settlement.
The settlement requires Lucero to be reassigned, though where he will go in the district is still unclear. The settlement also requires the district to ask the North Bend Police Department to remove student resource officer Jason Griggs and work with the ACLU of Oregon to create policies and training to prevent future discrimination and remain under ODE oversight for the next five years.
“The significance of this case and settlement can’t be understated,” dos Santos told The World in a previous interview. “It is a watershed moment for public education, not just in Oregon but throughout the country.
“There is now a public settlement agreement that can be used as a road map for other schools who are facing these kinds of difficulties and I hope ultimately it encourages LGBTQ youth and their supporters to come out of the closet about bullying and harassment at schools.”
Student Trenton Novotny also stood up for Lucero at the walkout and told The World that though he is open with his sexual orientation, he never saw backlash from the administration.
"I've been very open," he said. "There is no discrimination . . . at least not in mine."
At the walkout, The World invited Lucero to tell his side of the story. He declined at this time.