The last week and a half was a tough one for the Riverside-Brookfield High School community, particularly the senior class.
On Oct. 12, one of their classmates, Patrick Gurschke, was killed when he was struck by a car while skateboarding across the intersection of Maple and Monroe avenues. Throughout that weekend, friends started placing memorial objects near the place he landed, fatally injured. His skateboard. Cans of Arizona iced tea. Flowers. A videogame box. Stuffed animals. Handwritten notes, attached to the light pole with the red police tape used to cordon off the crash scene.
On Monday afternoon, in the middle of the school day friends organized an impromptu walkout and march to the site of the memorial, a good mile away. Hundreds of classmates, friends and even the curious left school after fifth period and marched to the site, holding in front of them a banner remembering their friend.
Riverside-Brookfield High School and the Brookfield police could have overreacted to the mass walkout of at least 200 kids.
They didn’t. Assistant Principal John Passarella was at the front of the group making its trek to Monroe and Maple. They received a police escort. When they reached their destination, police closed the intersection and let the kids hold their service. Mainly, it included standing around the light pole, leaving more mementos and the interjection of periodic verbal demonstrations of their loss.
They were there for about an hour, and police – including the entire command staff on duty, including the chief – hung around on the fringes. Passarella kept closer contact, but gently let the memorial run its course.
When the kids began to drift away, police suggested that they clear the streets so officials could reopen them to traffic. No orders; no raised voices. After a few more minutes it was over.
Tearful classmates and friends made their way to the northwest corner of Monroe and Maple, where Patrick’s mother stood with her other kids. She was holding the banner her son’s classmates made and had signed. She was smiling, and she was clearly comforted by the memorial and outpouring of love for her son.
A school-day walkout and mile-long march is an impulsive act to be sure. It’s not something that officials at RBHS or the police want to see happen on a regular basis. And there’s a fine line between signaling tolerance for such behavior and zero-tolerance.
School officials and police walked that fine line and, what do you know, the kids handled themselves with dignity and grace, mourned the death of a friend and gave meaningful solace to his family.
If that’s what the kids at Riverside-Brookfield High School are being taught, then the education has been a success.