BRADLEY — More than 100 Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School students took part in a protest outside the school Friday morning prior to the start of classes.
Standing with a growing group of students along the West North Street in front of the school around 7:30 a.m., a student with teal-colored handprints — the official color for sexual harassment awareness — painted on her body held a hand-made sign that read, “Honk if you think BBCHS should be held accountable for allowing sexual assault.”
BBCHS student Lillie Deaton was among those gathered Friday morning in protest. She said the demonstration stemmed from students’ frustration with what she described as “being sexually harassed by students and staff.”
“I think we’ve had enough. We are sick of it,” Deaton said.
As the day and protests wore on, frustration was also expressed by the school’s administration over the frantic pace in which rumors were spreading on social media. In a letter to parents, the district said all allegations brought to its attention were investigated and determined to be unfounded.
Principal Brian Wright told the Daily Journal that two weeks ago, a female student reported to a school administrator that she was sexually harassed by another student while in school.
He said the student’s claim was investigated, and the administration did not find evidence that sexual harassment had taken place.
The school further elaborates in its letter to parents: “After full review and an official vetting process, the decision was made that the incident that took place was not of sexual harassment nature. We used our official student handbook as well as the guidance from Bradley PD to make this decision.”
But those chanting “Change BB” outside the school say the matter — and other matters of concern — have been swept under the rug.
Joined outside the school by a group of fellow students nodding in agreement, Deaton listed additional frustrations the students have with the differences they see in the way boys and girls are treated.
One point of contention is the presence of boys in the girls’ restrooms, she said.
“They don’t do anything about it. That’s a very uncomfortable situation for a girl to walk in when there are guys in there,” Deaton said. “Girls are not allowed in boys’ bathrooms.”
BBCHS student Skyler Coburn said inappropriate activity is written off as “boys being boys.”
“They can do what they want,” Coburn said.
On Wednesday and Thursday this week, posters reportedly appeared in school bathrooms accusing BBCHS of condoning sexual harassment. Friday’s protesters said that posters had been removed.
Principal Wright said procedures in the student handbook require posters to have prior approval of a school official before being displayed, and the posters were removed because these procedures were not followed.
The Daily Journal received a copy of the displayed flyers on Thursday. Marked with handprints, the sign read, “End sexual harassment at BBCHS” and featured a QR code that was directed to an online petition titled “Justice for women against BBCHS.”
As of 8 a.m. Friday, the petition had 2,395 signatures. By 4:30 p.m., more than 3,000 people had signed. The site credits a Melanie Jensen with starting the petition. The Journal has no information on who exactly Jensen is but has confirmed it’s not a resident of Manteno with the same name.
The text affiliated with the online petition, again credited to Jensen, said, “Multiple students, women, including my close friend, have been sexually harassed and assaulted by a specific person. The school has done nothing to help or change this from happening and instead have switched my friend’s schedule completely so she doesn’t have to see him, instead of punishing him.”
“Something needs to change. If you sign this petition then hopefully the school opens their eyes and does something about it, if not then we’ll keep doing stuff about it,” the petition continues.
Principal Wright noted Friday afternoon that the district supports students protesting and exercising their freedom of speech.
“However, there are very clearly defined and appropriate ways to protest while on school grounds, and especially within the educational environment,” he said. “When the learning of others is impeded or the disruption of the educational process results due to the protest, that is when administrators will step in and address those protesting.”
Several students told the Daily Journal they received suspensions, were not let back into the building or were otherwise punished for their participation in Friday’s protests. Not all those who participated remained outside for the duration of the day’s protest. Many went into the school once classes started in the morning.
Wright said that the district encourages students to report sexual harassment to their counselor, principal or any trusted adult in the building.
“We always take these reports seriously and will fully investigate them and apply the district policy against sexual harassment,” he said. “Sexual harassment does not have a place at BBCHS.”
On Thursday, a different female student had a brief conversation with an administrator alleging an incident with a male security guard in a female bathroom, Wright said. The student left school, on her own accord, shortly after making the claim, he said.
Students left BBCHS early that day as a precaution due to an unsubstantiated threat that was made to schools in the area.
The school has since been in contact with the student and her family in effort to get more information, Wright said. The school has also reviewed security footage and has not found evidence to substantiate the incident in question, he said.
No statement or report of sexual assault has been made with the school, Wright said.