BOLINGBROOK – Five protesters gathered near Bolingbrook High School Monday morning, supporting what they said was a thwarted student-led anti-bullying walk-out last Wednesday.
From 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday, the Rev. Patrick Green of Life Bridge Church in Lockport led the protest and was joined by fellow congregation members Amy Studer and Jacob Weinert, as well Karen Thompson and her daughter, who she says is home-schooled because of bullying issues at past schools.
Holding anti-bullying signs, they lined up across the street from the high school campus, soliciting honks from drivers and speaking to Bolingbrook residents who passed by.
Each protester shared a different story about how their lives have been touched by bullying and voiced their support for Bolingbrook High School junior Cheyenne Hensley, who had planned an anti-bullying student walk-out at BHS Wednesday, May 29.
Hensley – whose friend Kenyatta Parker committed suicide March 12 as a result of bullying – organized the 1 p.m. walk-out in correlation with National Stand Up & Walk Out Against Bullying Day.
About 30 Bolingbrook High School students planned to leave class, march to the cafeteria and stand in solidarity for a half-hour. But, their walk-out was abruptly canceled when Bolingbrook High School Principal Michael White declared the efforts to be "fake" and threatened to suspend any student involved in the event, according to Hensley.
Valley View School District Community Relations Director Larry Randa said that a walk-out during school hours would impede classes and cause a security issue.
He said the district provides anti-bullying resources through their website, and that teachers, counselors and administrators continually work to stop bullying.
Still, Hensley is determined to stop bullying at the high school.
The junior recently composed letters to local media outlets describing "pervasive bullying" at the school, coordinated Facebook and Twitter campaigns to raise awareness, and, with the help of four other Valley View students, organized an anti-bullying panel during a May 7 episode of local Bolingbrook television show "Bridging the Gap."
The main problem, she said, is the high school's inability and reluctance to effectively address the issue.
"In mid-April, I accompanied a fellow student to the counselor's office after they were bullied in the ROTC halls," Hensley said in an interview Monday. "The counselor said that the two of us should deal with it, and would not give us the time of day."
Monday morning's protesters echoed Hensley's concerns, saying that Valley View administrators have yet to take a "firm stance."
"Obviously, no school district wants bullying to continue in their schools," said Green, who has a seventh-grader enrolled in Valley View School District. "But Bolingbrook High School has been passive in their recourse. These students feel that they have nobody to turn to, and that bullying goes unnoticed."
"Many of the bullying incidences at Bolingbrook High School go unreported," Karen Thompson added. "Students are afraid to report bullying because they fear retaliation, others believe nothing will be done, and some are ashamed of being bullied, so they remain quiet. It's a vicious cycle."
For Hensley, bullying remains very personal and something that she will never forget.
"I don't want another one of my friends or classmates to kill him or herself like Kenyatta did," she said. "I am so thankful for the people that have been helping me, and I promise to do everything in my power to stop this bullying epidemic."