A crowd of community members blasted the Petaluma school board Tuesday over a Petaluma High School official’s decision to cut the mic of valedictorian who attempted to speak about sexual assault during her commencement address June 2.
Lulabel Seitz, a 17-year-old honors student bound for Stanford University, said she was sexually assaulted on campus by a peer she knew and during the ceremony wanted to air her frustration over what she viewed as a lack of action taken by the administration. But her microphone was shut off four minutes into her graduation speech after deviating from the script she previously submitted. She stepped around the podium to finish her speech, and later posted an “uncensored version” on YouTube.
The incident caught fire on social media and drew coverage by news organizations around the world.
On Tuesday, during the first public board meeting since the speech, her supporters criticized the administration’s handling of the incident, although some parents and community members have argued Seitz’s deviation was an unwelcome interruption to the graduation ceremony.
Petaluma resident Zahyra Garcia, who co-chairs the Indivisible Petaluma activist group and organized dissenters at the meeting, called for the district to instate an independent “sexual assault team” with community members and experts to examine policies and procedures.
“I’d like to see a better policy for sexual assault and follow-up for students and parents,” Garcia said before the meeting. “What were the repercussions for the perpetrator? It was swept under the rug.”
Administrators said students were aware microphones would be cut at graduation if they went off script, and that the action was legal. They argued the school has control over a message if it’s hosting the event.
Because of state open meeting laws, the five school board members could not respond directly to the crowd’s comments Tuesday because the issue wasn’t on the agenda.
However, Trustee Ellen Webster in a phone interview said she wished “people would pause for a moment and think.”
“Student issues are confidential, our hands are tied no matter what,” she said. “I was shocked by all the attention that the little suburban high school is getting. There are big things going on in the world.”
Tuesday’s meeting comes as a petition calling for the district’s superintendent, Gary Callahan, to replace Petaluma High School principal David Stirrat has gained nearly 9,000 signatures. Stirrat did not respond to multiple requests for comment, and Callahan could not be reached for comment.
Reached by phone Tuesday, Seitz, who’s in Anaheim on vacation, said she was heartened by the community’s response. Though she couldn’t attend the meeting, she, too, asked for change.
“In particular, they need to stop exercising Title 9 guidelines and rules at their discretion … this is a serous issue,” she said. “They don’t want to ruin people’s lives, but what they don’t think about is ruining a victim’s future by allowing perpetrators on campus.”
Robert Gallup, whose 17-year-old granddaughter graduated from Casa Grande High School this year and whose 13-year-old grandson is a student at Kenilworth Junior High, carried a sign that read “Vote Them Out.” Three of the five school board members have terms that expire this year.
Gallup said Seitz’s message wasn’t a distraction but rather shed light on the zeitgeist of a larger conversation. The #MeToo movement has brought issues of sexual assault and harassment to the forefront of global conversation.