The following article will be updated as more information and sources become available
Like every year in the week leading up to prom, on Tuesday, May 22, an assembly was held for the senior class about the dangers of what can happen after students leave the event.This type of presentation has happened every year, and the subject matter and content is similar from year to year. But the content of one presentation, an image at the scene of an accident from this past year including a former Westhill student, who due to being underage at the time of the accident will not be named, created a stir of mixed reactions from students and faculty.
The controversial image was shown was during the presentation by Stamford Police Officer Jeff Booth when discussing the dangers of drinking and driving, as well as the impact of the decisions students make. The image showed the former student dead in the car after the crash. While the face of the student could not be seen, the students legs and shoes were visible. Officer Booth pointed out the students body to the audience. Officer Booth explained that the crash occurred head on and that the victim was speeding when he attempted to navigate a turn. Officer Booth did not respond for comment.
Some students walked out after the image was shown.
“They (the students) felt hurt that no one in the room stepped up and stopped the presentation,” said English teacher Joe Celcis, recalling his conversation with three students who went to discuss the presentation and the image immediately after leaving. Celcis was not in attendance at the presentation.
Angelo Nichols (‘19) is one of the students that spoke with Celsis after the assembly. “I felt chills go through my body, I thought it [the image] was very disrespectful,” said Nichols.
“They felt like their friend and they were being victimized. When they saw nothing was being done they got up and walked out, over the course of the rest of the day I had students say they felt it (the image) was very rude. I had a couple of faculty members come to me. Some were so horrified [about] what was presented,” said Celcis.
Ms. McKenzie is one of the teachers that went to Celsis. McKenzie also spoke to students after the assembly and she believes there is a racial undertone to the image being shown.
“Historically black bodies have been used to teach lessons.” said McKenzie “Bodies [that] were lynched [were] left in the trees as a lesson to other blacks,” she said. “It was a poor judgement call and I just have to question an adult who has access to a ton of videos and information [that] they could have used anything [instead of the image presented]” McKenzie continued.
The same students that went to Mr. Celcis were then called down by Ms. Obas, who was present at the assembly. The students had an opportunity to voice their reasons for walking out and why they felt it was wrong to show the image, however, two of the three students walked out of Obas’ office and refused to speak on the topic. Ms. Obas, along with all other administrators was not aware that the student pictured was the underage student, nor were they made aware that the image of the student would be shown in the presentation.
Rinaldi, who was not present when the image was shown, was alerted by Ms. Obas after the assembly that the image was shown.
Before the final bell, at approximately 2:00, Principal Rinaldi made an announcement expressing his apology and taking full responsibility for the image being shown.
“Those pictures hit far too close to home, I hope that the seniors are listening and know that as principal i take full responsibility for that having occurred, I personally apologize,” said Rinaldi during the announcement.
“I feel bad, it touched home, it was very close to the Westhill community,” said Edwards. SRO Edwards expressed regret over the effect that the images had on the Seniors in the audience. “He was a friend, it was a reminder of that tragic night and it was not that long ago. A lot of us are not over the death of [the student].” said Nichols
Students and faculty at Westhill have different opinions when it comes to the presentation of the image. While Principal Rinaldi and Mr. Celcis felt the inclusion of the image was inappropriate, Social Studies teacher, Sheryl Berkley felt differently.
“If it saves one life, which we will never know because you never know the effects, then I find it acceptable. Id prefer people to be upset rather than dead. Since I have been teaching here, almost every student that has passed away during his or her high school years has been in my class, I do not want to feel that way again,” said Berkley.
Head Football Coach Frank Marcucio III felt similarly to Berkley, “It is a method that has been used in injury prevention programs for more than a quarter century. Its purpose is to instill a shock factor that will stick with individuals, especially adolescents to effect behavior changes that will lead to more responsible choices being made by individuals to lower the incident of injury from preventable accidents.” Marcucio is a former EMS Chief and has been on the scene for many deadly incidents.
Other presenters discussed sexual consent, drinking and driving, alcohol and the dangers of hosting parties, there was a discussion by State Attorney Rich Colangelo regarding filming of sexual activity and possession of child pornography, as well.