Parents of children who attend Lewis and Clark Middle School in the Bellevue School District told WOWT 6 News they are upset over a school presentation. The presentation was structured to focus on bullying, but one family said the children saw inappropriate and graphic images during the assembly. While some were upset, many others felt the presentation was needed in an effort to end bullying.
The school brought in speaker Phil Chalmers, who is a nationally known speaker, and calls himself “America’s Leading Authority on Juvenile Homicide." He has written books on Teen Killings and has a show on the Biography Channel centered around teen killings. Parents said school shootings were a large theme of the school presentation.
One student told WOWT 6 News they were shown images of dead students and teachers from past school shootings in history. The student also said there were shown pictures of suicides. The student described the pictures as “very graphic, lots of blood, dismembered body parts.” Parents told 6 News the children who saw the presentation were anywhere between the ages of 11-14.
Chalmers said the presentation is meant to show the reality of the situation in an effort to end bullying and prevent tragedies that can stem from bullying. During the assembly he also discussed, drugs, abstinence, preventing kidnappings, sexual assault, and self-image. Two students told WOWT 6 News there were parts of the assembly that were helpful, but much of it was too much to handle for them.
Two families said their child came home crying, and their children said several other students of the roughly 300 who saw the presentation left crying. The student said Chalmers, the presenter, handled the crying students in a poor way, telling them to leave if they can’t handle it. Chalmers, however, told WOWT 6 News he told people to leave if they were going to be distracting by giggling and laughing, and said he did warn students the material would be graphic.
Chalmer’s youtube channel includes an example clip of the presentation students saw, titled “True Lies.” WOWT 6 News watched the clip and found an image within the video that did match up with what students said. Chalmer’s website describes his presentation. It reads that attendees “…never fully recover from what they experience during the presentation.”
He says it is in an effort to show what bullying can lead to, and told WOWT 6 News that hiding reality from the children will not do any good. "I would literally be honest with the parents and say do you live in an Amish community? If you say no then listen your kids are seeing worse than this in the movies they watch every weekend, and the TV shows they watch in your home."
But One family disagreed. They said they do not let their daughter watch Rated "R" movies at home, and she does not play violent video games. They said they believe the school should have warned parents that the presentation would take place, and require a permission slip to view the presentation. They said they do not understand why permission slips are needed for Rated "R" movies shown in class, but not crime scene photos.
Chalmers told WOWT 6 News the presentation has been done for nearly 25 years and works. "It really get kids to think about the decisions they're making. They can have deadly consequences. We prevent school shootings," he said.
One parent said she sent a message to Chalmers that reads: "This is the type of assembly that should require a permission slip from the school Your graphic violence is its own form of bullying. This sends kids to a dark place, one they may have never gone to... I am so disappointed at our school for allowing you in the building."
The school told WOWT 6 News the Principal did not view the presentation beforehand, but was under the impression it would be altered for the age group. A spokesperson with the district said in the future they will surely use permission slips. They did add that the majority of students were happy with the presentation and Chalmers got more complimentary e-mails than negative e-mails.
The upset families said they are frustrated because not everyone's child can handle a presentation that involves graphic images. They said a permission slip would have solved any issues they had.
The emotional response from some students had the middle school Principal, Michael Smith, send two e-mails to parents over the weekend. They are both below:
I wanted to bring to your attention a school assembly that took place at Lewis & Clark this afternoon. Several serious concepts were shared with students ranging from personal choices and bullying, to drugs and abuse. Some of the topics were sensitive and may have stirred an emotional response from students. I would encourage families to follow-up with their student and discuss how personal choices can have lifelong consequences. Information regarding our presenter can be found at philchalmers.com. Please let us know if you have further questions.
I am writing to you in order to provide further information regarding our school assembly on Friday by Phil Chalmers. I first want to personally apologize to anyone who was uncomfortable with the content included in the presentation, or the method of delivery. The intent behind the presentation was certainly not to shock and alarm, but to create a movement to end bullying at Lewis & Clark.
Unfortunately, the content within the presentation is a true reflection of what our students deal with on an ongoing basis. Turning to drugs, sex, violence, self-harm, or a number of other horrible things are regrettable choices that victims of bullying choose. Conversely, each of these delicate issues can/are used as horrific forms of bullying. Our goal in having Mr. Chalmers present was to educate students regarding the consequences of bullying, the importance of making good personal choices, and to establish a culture of mutual respect among our student body.
As I have processed this presentation with my own child, I have come to realize that the assembly has stirred some thought provoking questions from some of our students. Our school counselors, Mrs. Olsen and Mrs. Rohlfs, will be available throughout the day on Monday to process questions with students. We would also answer any lingering questions that you may have as a parent/guardian.
I’m hoping that the message we heard on Friday can be taken as a call to action by all of us to educate and support the students of Lewis & Clark. My wish is that this will bring these concepts to the forefront and empower our students to report any inappropriate behaviors that they witness.