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Local school dealing with inflammatory student project
3/21/2008 By: Melanie Mazur
A student-produced Power Point project featuring trucks, guns, motorcycles and girls in bikinis doesn’t raise many eyebrows in Bayfield.
One with logos from the Ku Klux Klan, dismembered bodies, anti-gay and racist imagery has.
Two students from REACH, or Resource, Enrichment and Academic Choices, this month made a Powerpoint project for a class assignment that some local parents view as disturbing.
They said it contained racist and homophobic images, white supremacist logos, pictures of guns, and caricatures of African Americans. Some of the pictures on the project were innocuous, such as American soldiers and flags, crosses, pretty blonde girls, and muscle cars.
REACH is an alternative school program operated by Skills for Living and Learning, a Bayfield non-profit organization. It has 60 students in grades K-12. It receives some state and local funding for students who transfer there from regular district schools.
Susan Livingston, the director of Skills for Living and Learning, said as soon as a teacher saw the student project, the employee informed her about it.
After Livingston saw it, she talked to the students, immediately notified the children’s parents and sought a professional assessment for the students. She also notified the Bayfield Marshal’s Office and administrators at the Bayfield School District.
The two are still attending REACH, she said.
When asked if she thought the project was a threat, and how much of it was teenage stupidity, Livingston paused. She said she is trying to protect all of the REACH students, including the two who produced the project.
“Steps have been taken to determine what was the basis for images and if there was an actual threat,” she said. “The two students have been through a process that includes education, intervention, and an understanding of the harm this type of work can cause. The steps were taken for professional intervention, and they’re still there because of the results of that.”
Some local parents worry if that is enough. One, who showed the project to the Times, said she thinks the students should have outside help or counseling. She said she hoped the students aren’t expelled, but she thinks parents need to know that this kind of thing does happen in Bayfield. She asked not to be identified by name because she is concerned for her children’s safety.
Livingston said the incident has been difficult at the school, but she hopes the work the staff does with at-risk and non-traditional students, as well as gifted students, will outweigh the actions of two students.
“I do not condone what these students did,” she said. “What we usually receive from parents is thanks, that we’ve changed their kid’s life, that he’s now succeeding.”
She forwarded an e-mail message to the Times from the mother of one of the students.
“My child understood it to be expressive journaling,” of things that either interested or disturbed him, the mother wrote. When she saw the pictures, she said she asked her son what he was thinking and feeling when he picked out the images.
“The answers I got back were actually very comforting to me to know my child was thinking about issues and caring about things in this word that are wrong and hurtful.”
She continued: “We immediately sought out professional help and he was evaluated and the professional opinion and diagnosis was also comforting to me.
“Should we punish a child for doing what they were asked to do, and for getting it out in the open to talk and work through it, or ignore it and let it build into something dangerous.”
Both the mother and Livingston were concerned that the work, which they compare to a student journal, was taken from the school without the student’s consent.
One employee recently was dismissed by Skills and Living and Learning. Livingston said it was not related to this issue.
The Skills for Living and Learning board met on Monday. Parents who said they tried to attend the meeting found the location had been moved, and they were not able to attend.
Livingston said she was not asked to attend the meeting, so she doesn’t know if it was discussed or not.
Bayfield Marshal Jim Harrington, a former trustee on the Bayfield School Board, said he has seen the presentation and said the images were disturbing, but unless the students break the law, it’s a school matter, not a law enforcement matter.
“I really don’t know what to say,” he said. “Everything we’ve done since Columbine is focus on safe school committees and educating the educators on red flags.”
The project was definitely a red flag, he said.
“What if a gay kid goes to REACH and they kill him and they maim him or beat him up?” Harrington asked. “What if a black kid goes?”
He said disturbing, but not illegal, behavior is difficult for both police and schools to deal with.