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Riverside’s ‘sex room’ from a student’s perspective

On May 22, 2019 ABC11’s Tim Pulliam released an article regarding a “sex room” found inside Riverside High School. As more information emerged, he updated the article, however the damage had been done.

Within 30 minutes of the article’s release, I received texts about the article from friends at other schools. I saw screenshots of the article all over social media, and the halls were filled kids talking about a “sex room.”

Although many reports have had different claims about the case, here are the facts Riverside’s student newspaper, The Pirates’ Hook, knows:

  • There was a consensual sex act that occurred on Riverside’s campus.
  • The male student involved recorded this and allegedly put it on social media.
  • The female student did not give consent to be recorded or have this video released.
  • The female student contacted our SRO Officer about the video being broadcast without her consent.

The case is listed as a sex exploit in the Durham County Sheriff Blotter.

In the original report of the incident from Pulliam, he referred to it as a “sex room” in Riverside, which has spread throughout Durham. This room however was never the designated “sex room” in Riverside. It was a one-time incident and certainly isn’t the norm at our school.

Pulliam continued to release misleading information about Riverside via Twitter as the story dropped.

“An administrator at Riverside High School says there’s a classroom where teens go to have sex,” Pulliam wrote in a Wednesday morning tweet.

This statement implies that he spoke with an administrator at our school, which he didn’t. It also suggests that students are often in this room unsupervised, or that it is being supported by a faculty member or others in the building. With his either misunderstanding of the topic, or urge to receive clicks, Pulliam continued to shed a negative light on our school.

Both student and parent reaction has been negative towards this topic. Several parents took their children out of school on May 22, some asking why our school has a “rape room.” This reaction resulted because of the sensationalized coverage of the news story. Alternately, many parents and students came to the defense of the Riverside community, because they know how this misrepresents our school.

One story could overshadow all the amazing things Principal Tonya Williams, the faculty, and the students have been doing here.

Since Williams took over as Principal in October 2016, both the school performance and academic growth rates have increased steadily, according to the NC Report Cards. School fight rates have also decreased, and attendance at sporting events and school clubs has increased dramatically. We also have one of the best engineering programs in the country. Project Lead The Way awarded the program Distinguished Honors in 2018, and 90% of students receive proficient or higher on the exams. With this misleading news releasing students were disappointed because they don’t want one incident to lead to a negative perception of the school.

As a senior who has seen Riverside’s growth since Williams took over, the change has been incredible. Sporting events went from something no one attended, to having bleachers full of students and parents. Her welcoming attitude and willingness to connect with everyone has made Riverside a special place, and somewhere that students are proud to call home.

What Williams has done for our school is being overshadowed by a falsely reported article. The overblown coverage of a one-time incident has hurt the reputation of Riverside, a school that since Williams has taken over has shown nothing but growth.

The facts inferred from the article will soon fall out of the news, but may leave a lasting and inaccurate impact on our school and community. Riverside has grown in numerous ways over my four years here, and one misleading article shouldn’t overlook the positive events happening every day at our school.

Editor’s note: This perspective was first published by The Pirates’ Hook, Riverside High School’s award-winning, bilingual student newspaper. 

Joe Laird

Joe Laird is a senior at Riverside High School and an editor of The Pirates’ Hook, Riverside’s student newspaper. He will attend UNC-Chapel Hill next year and plans to major in journalism.