The rumor mill was in full force following last week’s student-led protest march. The Current staff writers Kara Conley, Miranda Paikowski, and Mike Smale separate fact from fiction.
Rumor: The march was a success, as it led to the school returning to seniors the right to create a wall mural and attend the Every 15 Minutes program in spring.
Fact: The riot did not result in these decisions. The official decision to once again make both juniors and seniors the attending classes for the Every 15 Minutes program was made prior to the hall pass uproar. “I had been thinking of changing the participating grades from juniors and seniors to juniors and sophomores. This was simply a proposal, and I was already leaning towards keeping it the way it has been,” said Ralph Schlass, assistant principal, in an interview with Miranda Paikowski. According to Schlass, he had decided a few days before the riot to have seniors participate once again. This announcement, although made on Thursday, was not related to the march whatsoever.
As for the senior mural, Schlass stated that it was never planned to be revoked. Last summer, a number of older murals were painted over. During the process, the most recent East 2014 mural was accidentally painted over as well. In an interview with Paikowski on Nov. 11, Superintendent Ted Neitzke said that he recognized the sadness of such an error. “We have been considering how to prevent this in the future,” Neitzke said. He then explained at a faculty meeting last Thursday the real plan for how the mural issue is to be solved. To ensure that an accident like this would not happen again, it was suggested that the murals be created on a separate 4-by-8-foot sheet that will be affixed to the wall. This way, if repainting occurs in the future, nothing will be painted over; the murals will simply be moved, risk-free of destruction. The senior mural was always intended to happen, so it is false to state that seniors gained back this tradition as a result of the protest.
Rumor: Students were Tasered and pepper-sprayed during the riot.
Fact: There is no way anyone could have been Tasered or pepper-sprayed during the riot. Not only did members of administration deny such an occurrence; the West Bend police department declared this rumor as absolutely impossible as well. “No Tasers were deployed,” lieutenant Michael Hartwell said in an interview with Miranda Paikowski. According to Hartwell, if either pepper-spray or a Taser were used, that information would have needed to be documented. In addition, if a Taser were indeed used on a student, it would be extremely hard for that act to go unnoticed. The effects of Tasers are far more violent than many people realize, and its deployment leaves debris behind as clear evidence.
Rumor: Administrators were punched at Thursday’s protest.
Fact: No administrators were abused in any way. It may have looked like assistant principal Dave Uelmen had been attacked when he tried helping a student down from a table. “Unfortunately, I had to remove a student from a table top because they were inciting, and there was a possibility of him hurting himself or others because of it. After I removed him from the table, he became agitated and may or may not have taken a half-hearted swing,” Uelmen said in an interview with Kara Conley. The video footage doesn’t clarify if the student meant to hit Uelmen, but Uelmen does not believe the student was trying to do so. “I saw him as off-balance and I was giving him an opportunity to regain his balance. Others saw it as him attacking me, and I didn’t feel as though that was the case.”
Rumor: The school was vandalized during the march through the halls, and the auditorium construction site was raided by the students.
Fact: During the riot, some vandalism did indeed occur. Assistant principal Ralph Schlass said that trash cans were tipped over, a few posters were ripped off the walls, and a single lunch table was tipped over. According to Schlass, the table was tipped back over to its standing position almost immediately after being pushed over. The police department confirmed these same examples of vandalism. As for the construction site damage, that was purely rumor. “The cameras show them running that way, but I think they must have been scared to go in because of all the construction workers around. It’s pretty clear that they took a quick left instead of even trying to get to the auditorium,” Schlass said in an interview with Miranda Paikowski. He also mentioned that when administrators went to the site to ask the workers if they had seen any kids on site, the workers seemed confused and said that they had seen no students in that area. So no, there were no students who broke into the construction site to look for weapons like hammers and they did not break in and try to ruin any work that had been done. The very next day, Superintendent Neitzke took a few classes to the auditorium to give them a tour of the remodeling.
Rumor: Multiple students were arrested.
Fact: Only one student was truly arrested, but 115 students were suspended or otherwise punished for their actions on Thursday. Not all students were suspended, but if a student was caught outside of their classroom during the periods they were supposed to attend class, they now have to deal with the repercussions. “The goal here every day is in class and on task,” said assistant principal Dave Uelmen in an interview with Kara Conley. “For the kids that did not actively go to class, the baseline was a three-day out-of-school suspension for them.” Other students who committed more serious acts got up to a five-day out-of-school suspension and the highest a school can go for consecutive out-of-school suspension is ten days.
“There are kids that will be put up for expulsion, based upon their past and the severity of their behaviors during last Thursday’s incident,” said Uelmen. There is also a somewhat less severe “pre-expulsion list,” which is basically like a parole contract for students. “You must comply with these rules if you want to remain a student in the West Bend School District,” Uelmen said in an interview with Mike Smale. If the student breaks the rules set in this contract, then the district may consider expulsion. Furthermore, community charges were used as punishment for more than 40 students. These include tickets and fees filed through the police department, such as municipal citations and disorderly conduct charges. “There was one for criminal damage to the property,” said Uelmen.
Rumor: Some students who were suspended tried to break back into the school Friday morning.
Fact: The beginnings of this rumor originated on social media. But assistant principal Dave Uelmen told Mike Smale that it never happened. “There would have been official charges by the West Bend Police Department regarding that,” Uelmen said. The police department did not charge any students on Friday.
Rumor: Students were smoking pot during the protest march.
Fact: The video footage has been looked over by administrators and they did not see any student abusing substances during Thursday’s events. Assistant principal Dave Uelmen spent more than six hours looking at the footage. “Did it not happen? I can’t say that without [being] one hundred percent sure. Things can always happen. Am I very, very confident that it didn’t happen? Absolutely,” Uelmen said in an interview with Kara Conley.
Rumor: Other area schools went on lockdown Thursday due to the unruly protest in West Bend.
Fact: The Current’s Kara Conley called the high schools in Slinger, Hartford, Kewaskum, Campbellsport, and Cedarburg, and also four West Bend private schools, to confirm that none of them went on lockdown. Hartford had scheduled safety drills taking place that same day, though. “We happened to be doing our planned drills that day—which had been planned for a while—and it just so happened to be on the same day as your protest,” said Dan Dobner, principal of Hartford Union High School. Hartford’s safety drills may have caused confusion and initiated this rumor which has now been verified as inaccurate.
Rumor: The protest made national news.
Fact: The West Bend High Schools were not on national news networks such as CNN or NBC. However, local Milwaukee TV channels 4, 6, and 12 did report on Thursday’s incident. The ABC affiliate WKOW in Madison also reported on the protest. The West Bend Daily News had two front page stories about Thursday’s events, and the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Sheboygan Press reported the story. The news also went as far as the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, which had a short, five-sentence blurb about the protest. “If this is our black eye, I guess we’ll take our black eye and learn from it,” said Dave Uelmen, assistant principal, in an interview with Mike Smale.
Rumor: The cops will be in school for a month.
Fact: The police presence in the school is different than what students are used to, but the unusually large number of police officers will soon taper off. “We’re going to start weaning off next week,” assistant principal Dave Uelmen told Mike Smale.
– By Kara Conley, Miranda Paikowski and Mike Smale, Current Staff
(Image: Students gather for a listening session with principal Bill Greymont in the East cafeteria on Nov. 20. Photograph courtesy of Danielle Konstanz, West English teacher.)
(Correction: Madison’s TV station WKOW now properly identified as an ABC affiliate.)