BRADLEY — Administrators have started meeting with students who took part in last week’s protests at Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School to get to the heart of their concerns and talk about moving forward, Superintendent Matt Vosberg said Monday.
More than 100 BBCHS students gathered outside the school Friday morning before classes started to protest how the school has handled cases of alleged sexual harassment. Some painted teal-colored handprints on themselves, chanted “Change BB” and held signs to bring attention to the cause.
Fliers posted in school bathrooms referencing sexual harassment and linking to a fast-growing online petition were taken down by administrators earlier in the week because the students did not get permission to display them.
In response to the protest, the administration made the call to limit spectators at Friday night’s football game to the families of players and performers.
In a letter to students this weekend, Principal Brian Wright further explained the decision.
“I did this to ensure that those who work hard to prepare for a competition have the stage completely to themselves and without interruption,” he said in the letter. “They deserve that respect.”
Vosberg said the school will go forward with its homecoming festivities and game this week as planned. Due to COVID-19 metrics in the community, the homecoming dance will be held outside behind the school.
Also in the letter, Wright said he wants to improve communication going forward, especially considering the light speed of the “social media rumor mill.”
“I will take responsibility for delayed communication to our student body and school family,” Wright said in the letter. “It is important to communicate what is not happening just as much as what is happening. If I had done this sooner, I believe many of the situations could have had a different outcome leading to less stress, fear, and anxiety for all.”
Wright goes on to ask students to stay in class, and if they feel they need to protest, to do so according to school policy. He notes that trusted adults within the building would be establishing lines of communication with students and working to rebuild trust.
“We saw you, heard you, and will listen,” Wright said.
Vosberg said this process began Monday, as administrators met with some of the students from Friday’s protest first thing in the morning. More meetings with students are scheduled for today.
“If you visit the school, you’ll see administrators out in the hallway all the time building relations, talking to kids,” Vosberg said. “The accessibility has always been there, but for whatever reason, things escalated really quickly last week.”
Vosberg also explained that the school supports the students’ right to protest, but it cannot condone students leaving school without permission while class is in session.
An example of protesting without violating school policy would include wearing shirts, pins or ribbons with messages on them in support of a cause, he said.
In these meetings, administrators are talking with students about their concerns and hearing their suggestions on how to make things better, Vosberg said.
One solution on the table is to use some of the flexible “boiler block” time during the school day to educate students about sexual harassment, both in terms of what is appropriate and inappropriate behavior and what to do if the harassment occurs at school.
Administrators are also taking the time during these meetings to explain the school’s response to two alleged incidents that were the focus of the protests.
One was alleged sexual harassment between students; Vosberg said the school investigated this report and it was determined to be unfounded. The school cannot share details with the public because it involves students, he added.
The other was a claim that a male security officer had gone into the bathroom with a female student.
Vosberg said the school reviewed security footage of the incident in question and determined that, after a verbal altercation between two female students, a female security officer had gone into the bathroom while the male security officer waited in the hallway.
“We want to make sure our student body knows proper protocols when there are concerns, and that we are here to investigate those concerns and make sure we do our due diligence so that school feels like a family and that people feel safe here,” Vosberg said.