Oak Park principal apologizes for 'offensive' presentation

Published: Wednesday, March 13, 2013 10:18 a.m. CDT

(MCT) A west suburban high school principal apologized to families in a letter Tuesday for a presentation to students that he said "addressed issues of race in a way that was offensive."

Oak Park and River Forest High School Principal Nathaniel Rouse said the remarks were made during a Monday assembly that was part of the school's weeklong anti-violence campaign.

"In discussing Rosa Parks, one of the speakers, a person of color herself, referred to 'colored people.' I believe she meant to echo the language of the 1960s in a sarcastic way, but that point was lost," Rouse wrote.

The presentation was made by the Alexian Brothers Parish Services group, said Matt Wakely, a spokesman for Arlington Heights-based Alexian Brothers Health System.

The parish services group, according to its website, "works to foster healing and wholeness to those who need it through professional counseling, education services and healthcare guidance within the framework of the Alexian Brothers mission."

The group released a statement through Wakely on Tuesday saying it was "dismayed to hear the feedback" and said there has never been an issue like this resulting from past presentations.

"We are looking into this matter and apologize to those who were offended by the presentation, including school faculty and staff in attendance." The statement said the group has been conducting presentations for school-age audiences on violence, bullying, suicide and other social-emotional issues for 20 years.

"Unfortunately, the presentation missed the mark for our community. It was unfocused, preachy, and geared for a younger audience," Rouse said.

Some students said the assembly was more unusual than offensive.

Sophomore Griffin Meadors said he agreed with Rouse's assessment that the presentation was preachy and called it cliched. He said the speakers used a PowerPoint presentation and asked a lot of rhetorical questions.

"It was a weird assembly," Meadors said. "Everybody, they just made a joke out of the whole assembly because of the poor presentation."

He said some students were offended by the "colored people" comment, but that if Rouse had not sent the apology letter, "people weren't going to get angry about it."

Senior Tyler Milsap said he left the assembly wondering what it was about.

Milsap said the group's ideas about violence and race may have been well intentioned, but "the presentation was all over the place."

A spokeswoman for the high school, Karin Sullivan, said the district paid a fee for the presentation and would seek a refund. The amount the school paid the organization was not immediately available.

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©2013 the Chicago Tribune

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