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Students at west coast Finnish school expose sexual harassment by faculty, peers

The school principal has promised an investigation into accounts of inappropriate behaviour by teachers and students at the school.

Vasa övningsskola.
Vasa övningsskola in Vaasa. Image: Roger Källman / Yle

More than 200 current and former students of Vasa övningsskola in Vaasa on the Finnish west coast have issued a petition calling for an end to sexual harassment at the school.

The petition, which was published Tuesday, calls out inappropriate behaviour at the school and highlights the behaviour of specific male teachers.

The school is a Swedish-language teaching institution that offers education from pre-school through to primary as well as lower and upper secondary school and an English-language international baccalaureate programme.

According to the students who have endorsed the petition, cases of sexual harassment have occurred in the upper secondary school, but also at the primary school level. One student claimed to have been 11 years old when she received inappropriate advances.

The petition claims that the persons responsible for the harassment have been students as well as teachers. The petition includes account by upwards of 30 students detailing incidents of harassment that targeted female students. These unwanted advances included inappropriate looks, messaging and physical contact.

"School should be a safe place for everyone and there should be zero tolerance for sexual harassment in school," the students declared.

Relief among students

The push-back against sexual harassment at the school began in a social media group that included 15 students.

"After that the group began to grow," student Ellen Sahlström told Svenska Yle.

Sahlström is listed as one of the contact people on the petition. She said that the school faculty has been aware of the student petition for about a week. The school has informed parents about the petition.

The student spokesperson noted that sexual harassment at the school remains a problem.

"Many girls are relieved and have come to say that it feels good that we are doing this together," she added.

Principal taken by surprise, promises probe

School principal Bernt Klockars told Svenska Yle that he was stunned to hear of the situation.

"I also feel relief that the bubble has now burst," he added.

According to the principal, the student accounts of sexual harassment will make it easier for students and faculty to discuss the issue using its proper name.

Klockars is a new appointment, having taken on the role of principal in August. He said that he was not aware of the claims of harassment until the last few days.

He said that the accusations laid out in the petition are being investigated. He promised that in future the school will have zero tolerance for sexual harassment.

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