Vista Ridge HS senior wants district to add cameras to stairwells

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CEDAR PARK (KXAN) —  A Vista Ridge High School senior is pushing Leander ISD to add cameras to stairwells to stop sexual assaults. The 18-year-old claims she had been sexually assaulted twice in the staircases and wants to lend a voice to the voiceless.

“I know I would have been able to come forward and it would have been so much easier to say, ‘hey, go look at this camera footage,’ instead of looking in a grown man’s eyes and saying, ‘he took off my pants and this and that,” said Sydney Gutierrez in regards to having to tell a principal or teacher.

Gutierrez spoke to the Leander ISD School Board Thursday night. She said she never told police or anyone else at school the incidents that happened her freshman and junior year in the school’s stairwell.

She heard multiple accounts of similar stories from friends and said she had to do something about it.

“I didn’t tell my mom until this last week. I didn’t share with anyone what happened to me and what prompted me to come forward was to not feel alone because you feel very alone when something like this happens to you,” said Gutierrez. “I wasn’t getting the responses that I wanted, my drive is to get cameras because it’s important to me as a deterrent, evidence and support and I feel that it’s necessary for the student body to have that.”

When she did tell the administration, Gutierrez received a response she wasn’t expecting; she said they told her she needed to start a club to empower women to say no.

“I’m really hoping they push for cameras, because in my opinion it’s a necessity to provide that security and we should feel safe going to school,” said Gutierrez. “I’ve talked to a lot of people that don’t feel that way.”

Gutierrez said she created a poll to see how many other people had experienced sexual assaults in school. She said more than 200 people responded and a quarter of them said they had been sexually assaulted or harassed at Vista Ridge High School.

The district said analyzing their security options but when it comes to adding cameras, they’re exploring the idea.

“We’ll be looking at other resources including collaborations with law enforcement and other experts to see if that’s something that would be beneficial,” said Veronica Sopher, spokeswoman for Leander ISD.

She said the board asked to conduct a securities audit of their facilities and had a company called Safe Haven International, analyze the district for 30 days. She said they’re currently reviewing the data to prioritize recommendations and looking to the community for input.

Currently, the district only use cameras for “asset protection” and the rest of the of the surveillance is left up to teachers and what they can see to monitor hallways and passing periods.

“We want first and foremost our students to report these incidents, that’s how change is made. We want people to feel confident coming forward, we want to make sure that they have the resources — both the physical resources and the support they’re going to need for their physical and mental well being — and then we’ll be working with law enforcement to make sure there’s legal recourse based on the judicial system that we have, that’s our priority,” said Sopher.

At Thursday’s board meeting, the district approved adding additional resources to have more counselors on secondary campuses.

In the meantime, Gutierrez said she just wants to see cameras added soon and hopes the board approves that in the future.

She doesn’t plan to file charges against the two different boys she said sexually assaulted her during freshman and junior year.

“Again, I don’t want to make this about me. I’ve been able to live past it and I’ve been strong enough to live with it and I want to help other girls. And that’s my mission, to empower others and tell girls, that they don’t deserve that and they deserve more respect.”

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