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By Terry Dean
The presentation by an outside group that was brought in to speak to students at an anti-violence assembly at Oak Park and River Forest High School on Monday has sparked criticism from attendees and an apology to families by the principal.
Principal Nathanial Rouse issued an apology via a letter to parents following Monday's presentation by representatives of Alexian Brothers Heath System, which runs rehabilitative, behavioral and children hospitals in Hoffman Estates and Elk Grove. One of the services Alexian representatives offer is speaking at schools about social-emotional issues faced by students.
The group was recommended to OPRF by "reliable peers, as well as other local schools," according to Rouse's letter.
But the Alexian presenters used terms like "colored people" when addressing the topic of race, which offended many students and adults who were present. The group drew other criticisms for their style and presentation. Alexian took part in a roughly hour-long assembly that was meant to kick off OPRF's weeklong anti-violence activities.
The high school received emails from upset parents about the assembly. And according to sources who were there, some students in the audience booed Alexian's presenters. One of the presenters, who is African American, discussed Rosa Parks and used the term "colored people."
"Unfortunately, the presentation missed the mark for our community," Rouse wrote. "It was unfocused, preachy, and geared for a younger audience. Worse, it addressed issues of race in a way that was offensive."
According to Rouse, the high school spoke with Alexian prior to Monday's assembly and believed the health agency was "ideal" to help launch the school's week.
"The goal for the week is to promote a culture of taking a stand against violence and showing respect and care for everyone in our school community," he wrote. "I am sorry to say that this assembly was deeply disappointing in its message and its format. We have offered an apology to students, faculty, and staff, and now I offer an apology to you, our families, as well."
Rouse adds that the assembly, though a disappointment, has sparked a good discussion in the building among the students and adults.
"Students' honest sharing of their opinions about the assembly has sparked meaningful classroom and hallway conversations about violence, race, and respect," he said. "I appreciate the willingness of our faculty, staff, and students to use this as an opportunity to move in a positive direction."
Wednesday Journal will have additional coverage in this week's paper.