Stephen Ellison

Parents, Students Confront Petaluma School Board About Silencing Valedictorian

Lulabel Seitz started talking about her experience with sexual assault on campus before her microphone was cut off

Concerned parents and students in the Petaluma High School community spoke out at a school board meeting Tuesday night and demanded the school to do more about sexual assault in response to the school silencing its valedictorian during her graduation speech.

Students showed up to the meeting hold large signs that said "Let her speak", the same words that students chanted after school senior Lulabel Seitz's microphone was cut off when she veered from the administration's pre-approved script.

"My sophomore year, I was sexually assaulted at Petaluma High School in the band room," said Bailey Walston, in tears during the meeting.

"For her to get her mic cut off when she's stepping up is really wrong, honestly, because it needs to be told. That high school, there are bullies, there are rapists, it's just wrong," Walston told NBC Bay Area.

Seitz, 17, wasn't at the meeting but she said she's hopeful that the conversation leads to action, and that the school will stop sweeping it all under the rug.

Some speakers at the meeting suggested the school add a sexual assault committee and adding curriculum for students. The school's board members and superintendent said they had no comment on the situation or the next steps that school may take.

Colin Caldwall, a parent and a junior high teacher who attended the meeting, said he knows the district can do better. 

"[Seitz] has experienced what my daughter and other students have experienced and it's time for us to do more as parents and teachers in this community," Caldwell told NBC Bay Area.

Seitz's commencement address on June 2 started out like any other, with her commenting on the regular high school experience. Then she began to talk about how she had been sexually assaulted on campus, and the school did nothing about it.

"We are not too young to speak up, to dream and to create change, which is why when some people on this campus, those same people ..." Seitz is heard saying before her microphone abruptly cuts off.

When her classmates realized what was happening, they stood up, cheered and began chanting "Let her speak." Students clapped in support as she returned to her seat during the ceremony on the school football field.

Seitz said later that she was "unfairly cut off" for trying to address the silencing of victims of sexual assault, though officials said all speakers had been warned the microphone would be muted if they went off message.

Principal David Stirrat said the school had been tipped off in advance that Seitz might deviate from her approved remarks.

Seitz said the school administration feared the truth. She posted a video on YouTube of her interrupted speech and added an uncensored version of the full speech she tried to deliver.

In the expanded version, she said students hadn't let it drag them down when some on campus "defend perpetrators of sexual assault and silence their victims."

Seitz said she was sexually assaulted on campus by someone she knew and wanted to show frustration for a lack of action by the school. 

"The person didn’t get any consequences, and he was even there at graduation watching me give my speech," she said. "And that’s just not fair to girls."

District officials did not respond to NBC Bay Area's request for comment. The school district told The Press Democrat they couldn’t comment on the alleged sexual assault, citing student privacy laws.

Legal experts were split on whether the school had the right to stop the speech. Seitz has a strong case for challenging, they said, especially because she was not using obscenities or disrupting the crowd.

Seitz, whose grandparents immigrated from the Philippines, is the first member of her family to graduate from high school. She will attend Stanford University.

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