Waverly grapples with pep rally fallout
Over 50 community members, many donning the Wolverines' red and white, packed the Waverly Central School District's administration building Thursday to express their views on the fallout from a skit performed at last week's pep rally.
As expected, public comment at Thursday's regularly scheduled board of education meeting centered around a photo of three Waverly High School students who wore face makeup to appear African-American and re-enacted a 2009 incident in which performer Chris Brown assaulted his girlfriend.
The skit occurred Friday during the "Mr. Waverly" competition, in which the senior male candidates compete for the biggest cheers from the watching crowd.
Since Waverly High School alum Matthew Dishler posted the photo on CNN's iReport website early Monday, it had received nearly 100,000 views as of Thursday night and has been featured on websites and news outlets nationwide and even internationally.
As a result of the photo's spread, the students and school have been criticized - locally and, now, globally - for making light of domestic violence and promoting racism.
"On behalf of my colleagues, this has been a rough week," said teacher Jason Miller, the first to speak during the meeting's public comment period.
Miller said Thursday he was "a little disappointed" at the reactions of building and district administrators as well as the board of education. He also said the incident has created "factions among the teaching staff."
Miller and others who spoke Thursday also referenced speculation that a district employee has been or will be punished in connection with Friday's pep rally. No disciplinary action appeared on Thursday's agenda, and superintendent Joseph Yelich said he could not comment on personnel issues.
"At the end of the day, to point fingers at one person is absolutely unacceptable," Miller said, amid applause and agreement from the crowd. "There is a lot of responsibility around this room that could be distributed. Blame is not the way to go."
From a teaching standpoint, Miller called the incident "an incredible opportunity throughout the week to discuss it with young adults and really have a positive experience out of something that was very negative."
Parent Holly Wright asked the board why a skit at previous pep rally held in 2011 - in which a white student also painted his face in a portrayal of the golfer Tiger Woods - was not questioned. "If you felt that was wrong," Wright asked, "why didn't you stop this last year?"
Another parent asked why counseling had not yet been provided for students. Yelich said following the meeting that the district plans on providing counseling and will continue to hold assemblies to educate students.
Several community partners have also reached out to the district to provide resources, something Yelich said he plans to take advantage of.
"We're seizing this as a teachable moment," he said. "We're putting together a real good, ongoing intervention plan. This is not going to be a one-time thing."
Yelich said the district remains "committed to supporting student programs" and supporting Waverly's "strong tradition of community spirit and school spirit."
And in a trying week in which a global audience has questioned the school's and the community's motives, tolerance and character, Yelich said he maintains that the students, staff and community at Waverly are "quality people."
Yelich said that in his conversations with national and international press, he's tried to make one thing clear.
"You don't know the people here," he said. "The people here are wonderful."
Amanda Renko can be reached at (570) 888-9652; or email: firstname.lastname@example.org.