Firm will refund fee for controversial OPRF assemblies
Students Sarah (left) and Kayla Steinke share their reactions to a forum on nonviolence held Monday at Oak Park and River Forest High School on Wednesday, March 13, 2013 outside the school. I Stacie Scott~for Sun-Times Media
Updated: March 21, 2013 1:24PM
OAK PARK — The firm that conducted two assemblies at Oak Park-River Forest High School on March 11 — events which prompted an apology from the principal on March 12 — has agreed to refund its fee.
Alexian Brothers Parish Services said it will return the $1,691 paid by the school for presentations at the two student gatherings.
Principal Nathaniel Rouse characterized the content of those programs as “offensive” in an apology he e-mailed to students and parents on Tuesday.
The all-school assemblies on Monday were intended to kick off a school-climate week themed “You Mad? Get Glad!”
Matt Wakely, a spokesman for Arlington Heights-based Alexian Brothers Health System released a prepared statement Tuesday on behalf of its Parish Services division.
“Alexian Brothers Parish Services was dismayed to hear the feedback from the recent presentation” at the high school, the statement read.
“We are looking into this matter and apologize to all those who may have been offended by some aspects of the presentation, including school faculty and staff in attendance,” the statement said.
The high school had contracted with Alexian Brothers Parish Services to help deliver its anti-violence message but found itself facing conflict after students reported that they had been left with the impression that “students of color are to blame for violence.”
Rouse felt compelled to apologize Tuesday in an e-mail to students and parents for a presentation he said was “deeply disappointing in its message and its format” as well as “unfocused, preachy, and geared for a younger audience.”
He further explained that Alexian Brother Parish Services had come recommended by “reliable” colleagues of OPRF officials at other schools.
In its prepared statement, Alexian Brothers Parish Services said its staff had “conducted thousands of presentations for school-age audiences on important topics such as violence, bullying, suicide and other social-emotional issues” over the past 20 years.
“There has never been an issue like this which has surfaced in other presentations of a similar nature,” the statement said.
“We adhere to a rigorous screening process for all of our outreach participants and speakers, and do not condone any behavior which is disrespectful or inconsiderate of others.”
Though students had mixed reactions to the way Monday’s assemblies unfolded, their family members appear united in believing that Alexian Brothers had crossed a boundary in its approach to minority students.
Junior Sarah Steinke and her sister, freshman Kayla Steinke, agreed students failed to connect with the message the presenters tried to convey primarily because of the tone they used, which seemed geared for younger students.
“As soon as they said anything condescending and weird, we were like, ‘Oh, snap!” said Sarah Steinke, who attended the first assembly.
A video the presenters played that was supposed to illustrate how leadership works by showing a man who starts out dancing alone until in the end, everyone tries to dance with him, also backfired.
“It was like they were trying to be serious by showing something silly, which only made the students act silly,” Sarah Steinke said.
“She told our white friends to sit back while she talked to the minorities, which was weird,” said Kayla Steinke, who attended the second assembly. “I felt like it was excluding the white people, and they are also very violent in the school.”
Lamaricus Hobbs and Tomica Stovall, parents of sophomore Lamaricus Hobbs Jr., said they hadn’t seen Rouse’s e-mail and their son hadn’t mentioned the assembly to them. However, each said they believed the Alexian Brothers presenter crossed a boundary when she singled out minority students and prefaced her remarks with, “My brothers and sisters.”
“If she didn’t mean it that way, she should have said it different,” said Hobbs as he waited outside the school Wednesday to take his son to dinner in honor of his 16th birthday. “It comes from both places. You can’t just say ‘minority.’”
“People still think like that?” Stovall pondered. “I probably would have thought it was more funny than offensive, I guess. I guess I would have to see the tone of it.”
Lamaricus, who attended the first assembly, said even though he is African-American, he didn’t find the presenter’s remarks offensive and even defended her. However, he said he believed Rouse did the right thing by sending the apology for those who did feel slighted.
“For the most part, what she said was true. It’s not all of us but some of us. Some of us have some things to work on,” he said. “I don’t think she meant to offend them; she just meant to be truthful to them.”