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By MATT DANIELS
Rantoul Press assistant editor
A Rantoul Township High School senior accused the school’s administration of not addressing several incidents of bullying in a swift manner and creating an environment where he does not feel safe at the school.
Gage Peters, who is ranked third in his class and is the school’s modern media editor-in-chief, and is involved in the school band and student council, made those comments to the RTHS board during its monthly meeting Jan. 14.
“I would like to ensure that no other individual would ever have to encounter the treatment that I received,” Peters said. “With the hard work that I’ve put in to positively representing RTHS, I would like to feel assured that the reputation would be held by the school, but I have had experiences that have proved otherwise.”
Peters said there were five separate incidents were done to his car during a one-month span from late August until late September,
Peters said when he walked out to his car Aug. 24, a slushy drink had been poured on top of it. On Aug. 28, gum was found on his car, and Sept. 6, a “brown substance,” Peters said, was put on his car.
Peters said he informed school administrators of these incidents and purchased a car camera that cost more than $180.
“After the first day my camera was installed, I caught the student spitting on my window,” Peters said. “The very next day I caught them writing the word “fag.” I reported this to the administration, and the very next day supplied them with a copy of this video. The same day that the fag incident occurred, I was given a Mr. Clean eraser and was told to add water.”
RTHS Superintendent Scott Amerio said former RTHS Assistant Principal Chris Garard, who left RTHS in early October to become the principal at Gibson City-Melvin-Sibley High School, was the administrator who initially dealt with Peters’ situation. RTHS School Resource Officer Kurtis Buckley was made aware of the situation after the third incident on Sept. 6, Amerio said. Peters confirmed this is how the chain of events unfolded.
The homophobic slur was written on Peters’ car on Sept. 26, but the student in question wasn’t given consequences until Sept. 28, a time span that Peters felt was too long. Peters made a copy of the video and handed it to Buckley the morning of Sept. 27, both Peters and Amerio said.
Amerio said Garard and Buckley both viewed the video Sept. 27, and the student was suspended for three days, starting Sept. 28. Amerio said the student had a meeting with school administrators late on the morning or early in the afternoon of Sept. 27, and the school had to notify the student’s parents before the suspension began Sept. 28.
“According to the Illinois Safe School Alliance, schools must address disciplinary infractions equally regardless of a student’s sexual orientation or gender identity,” Peters said. “I feel that this punishment was not equal. Five things have happened to my car, and the administration lacked concern on these issues.”
Peters was also not pleased that more students were not punished, claiming three other students were seen on the camera, but were never disciplined.
“It states in the (school) handbook that any student who is a bystander to any bullying conduct and fails to make any action to discourage the bullying also may be subject to discipline,” Peters said. “To allow for a better learning atmosphere and safer learning environment for all students, it’s important that we take the right steps in positively changing RTHS to ensure that all students have equal rights.”
Amerio said the three-day suspension the student received was consistent with the board’s policy and the school’s handbook.
“They were not to the maximum,” Amerio said. “There’s kind of a range that we can give. They were more to the minimum. One of the things I talked to Gage about was that our goal with discipline is to make sure that we are consistent with the handbook and that it’s something that makes the student not want to do that behavior again.”
Amerio and Peters said no further incidents with the student in question and Peters have happened since Sept. 26, and Amerio said a report on the incidents was filed with the state’s attorney, who is looking at the case.
Amerio was apologetic to Peters and thanked him for making the comments at a public meeting, saying “It takes a lot of courage to come up and talk to the board.”
“I do feel bad for him that he had to go through that situation,” Amerio said. “I would never wish that on any student.”
The board took no action on the item, which came up during the receiving and hearing of individual citizens portion of the meeting.
Peters said the series of situations affected his emotional health not only at school, but outside of school
“I don’t feel safe attending this school, and I feel no support or protection,” he said. “Overall, I have a feeling of defeat and embarrassment, but I’ve also learned to stand up for myself and advocate not only for myself, but others. The pain and suffering that I had to go through is a situation that I would never want any individual to go through. I’m here trying as hard as I can to protect my fellow peers and positively influence RTHS and leave behind my legacy — the legacy to help and protect others in what is supposed to be a safe learning environment.”