BHS assembly draws outrage, apologies
A series of mistakes surrounded an assembly at Baldwin High School last Thursday, turning what was intended to be a Veterans Day tribute into military recruitment where "inappropriate language and images" were used.
All high school students attended the assembly in which a speaker from the military's recruitment command delivered a speech aimed at recruiting soldiers that didn't honor veterans, said Supt. Paul Dorathy. A power-point display shown behind the speaker included several slides that contained profanity and pro-war messages.
Dorathy said the high school administration had requested a program from the recruiting officer located in Lawrence. He in turn made the request further up command and a Staff Sergeant was assigned. He brought the power-point display that was intended to recruit members for special operations for those already in the military, not the one usually shown to high school students, said Dorathy.
"The request from us was an assembly to honor veterans and some character education. That's what our request was," said Dorathy. "No, we didn't get what we asked for, but I'm sure that what they came to present.
"For the future, we will review what the presenters have to present before hand," he said. "That will be part of the protocol."
Dorathy had attributed that the speaker was from Fort Riley. However, Deb Skidmore, media relation's officer there, said it wasn't the Fort's speaker, but one from military recruitment command.
"I know the school contacted the recruiter in Lawrence," said Skidmore. "They reached to their special forces unit which is housed at Fort Riley, but is a separate command."
She added that the recruitment command unit had only been housed at Fort Riley for about 45 days.
"When they contacted military recruitment, that's what they would get," she said. "We weren't contacted. We do have speakers."
She also said that by the school officials contacting who they did, they got what they asked for.
"That's what it sounds like to me, although it sounds like there were some inappropriate messages," said Skidmore. "The speaker did send an apology for the school."
Dorathy confirmed that an apology letter was sent. In it, Staff Sgt. Jeffrey J. Rylander said he mistakenly clicked on the wrong presentation on his computer and didn't realize it in time. They were not the slides he intended to show, he said.
Dorathy also said that there have been many calls made to the high school regarding the program and the three teachers that protested the event by holding up signs saying there are better ways to serve the country as the students returned to class.
"There are those that are upset with the program and those that are upset with the teachers," said Dorathy. "It is pretty split."
Dorathy declined to identify the teachers and what, if any, action was taken as a result. He did say the teachers have the right to free speech and that since it didn't disrupt school, there wasn't much that could be done.
"That's a personnel matter and I can't comment," he said.
As to why the program wasn't stopped when the inappropriate messages were shown, Dorathy said the high school principals, Sean Moseman and Bret Jones, weren't at the assembly.
"There was our challenge," he said. "The two principals had come down to the district office for a meeting and weren't there. If either administrator had been at the assembly, the situation would have been different."
What bothers Dorathy most is that the intent of the assembly was to honor veterans. He wants to make that clear, apologizes for what happened, and has sent a letter to the editor regarding veterans (See page A-4).
"There were mistakes made throughout," said Dorathy. "Our whole purpose was to honor veterans and that was not done. We want them to know we will continue to honor veterans and we will have an appropriate assembly for veterans next year."