Follow-up protest held in Waterloo after Friday’s protest over employee’s alleged insensitive comments

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WARNING: This story contains references to suicide. Viewer discretion is advised.

WATERLOO, N.Y. (WHEC) — Waterloo High School students held a follow-up protest Sunday after protesting Friday.

They want an employee fired who they say made insensitive comments about teen suicide.

The protest started at 5 p.m. Students are still marching through Waterloo.

It comes after the mother of 11-year-old Gio Bourne, Angelicia Smith, received a letter from the Waterloo Central School District banning her from school property for supporting the students who protested on Friday.

News10NBC Investigative Reporter Jennifer Lewke previously interviewed Smith about her son, who took his own life back in June.

The school district sent the following message to the school community following Friday’s protest:

September 18th, 2021

We recognize that the protest on Friday reflected the community’s pain and emotions are high. As educators, we now speak to the conduct we witnessed and explain the ways we have adapted to support all families over the past five years and moving forward.

On Friday, September 17th, a small group of adults and some students participated in a protest on school grounds during school hours regarding issues related to student suicide and an alleged insensitive statement by a staff member. Friday’s protest caused a significant disruption to school activities and cannot recur. The protest went on for several hours and caused substantial fear to the school community. Students shouted obscenities at the administrators who were outside supervising them. Students marched around the high school and middle school campus pounding on windows and shouting, causing a substantial disruption to the instruction that was going on in the building. Students inside the school who were not protesting outside or who came inside because they were made to feel uncomfortable with the tone the protest took, shared with teachers they were being berated and bullied by the student protestors outside of school. Many of these students expressed concern about returning to school on Monday to face these classmates.

There were no incidents of bullying reported to any staff at Waterloo Middle School related to any organizer’s child. Had such concerns been brought to the District’s attention, it would have followed its Dignity for All Students Act policy, as well as Education Law requirements. The District takes seriously issues surrounding mental health, bullying and suicide, and strives to provide a safe and healthy environment for students to learn. We welcome a meaningful and productive dialogue toward the goal of moving the District forward in a positive direction.

Over the past five years to support the whole child and help students deal with the societal issues they face every day, including peer interactions, poverty, mental health and drug abuse, the Waterloo Central School District has:

  • Added several Seneca County Mental Health Counselors to its staff in addition to two full-time Social Worker
  • Updated curriculum in Health classes and added a 6th-grade class in Health
  • Reinstated an advisory period at the secondary level to connect students and staff with each other for support
  • Added the Second Step Program in Grades K-8 and the PBIS program district-wide
  • Hired an additional School Nurse, Director of Social Emotional Learning Coordination, and a Restorative Justice/Academic Dean Teacher on Special Assignment, District Wellness Coordinator and Building Wellness Coordinators for each school in the district
  • Participated in Year 2 of 3 of the Improving School Culture and Climate grant with Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES focused on Social Emotional Learning, Mental Health First Aid, and Multi-Tiered Systems of Support
  • Trained staff in Second Step, PBIS, Therapeutic Crisis Intervention (TCI), Teen Mental Health First Aid and Youth Mental Health First Aid
  • Trained teams of staff from every building in Trauma Illness and Grief (TIG) to create TIG teams in each building and the district level to respond to any incidents of trauma, illness, or grief
  • Created a district wide TIG response manual for all building teams to use during TIG events
  • Added after school programming and increased extra-curricular activities and electives at the secondary level in all areas to engage students
  • Expanded hands on and technology programming available to students through Wayne-Finger Lakes BOCES, including the New Visions and P-TECH Programs
  • Expanded its UPK Program to a full day program with transportation for four-year old students
  • Provided wrap around extended school day programming free of charge to all students in both elementary schools
  • Provided a free breakfast and lunch to every child who needs it
  • Participated in the Food-link Trevor’s Gift Backpack program run by community volunteers every week, delivering food to families with food instability so they have food on the weekends to feed their school-aged children
  • Supported students in the creation of Bailey’s Boutique last spring, which provides students free of charge clothing, shoes, coats, toiletries, school supplies, school spirit wear, food, personal hygiene items and many other items donated by the Waterloo community

Although Waterloo Central School District unwaveringly supports rights to free speech, the exercise of such rights cannot infringe on the rights of others, disrupt the instructional day, be insubordinate or otherwise violate the District’s Code of Conduct.

Moving forward, should such an incident recur, the District will have no choice but to enforce its Code of Conduct and take disciplinary action against participating students. The District has also temporarily limited access to adults who have violated its Code of Conduct. While the District has no interest in restricting community member or parent access to its property, it is obligated by law to maintain and uphold its Code of Conduct and keep students safe. Adults whose access has been limited due to the September 17th incident will be permitted to access school property for legitimate purposes moving forward upon written confirmation that they will comply with the District’s Code of Conduct. Student safety and well-being is the District’s priority.