A high school in Brodhead, Wisconsin, came up with a creative—but highly inappropriate—way to encourage students to use “safe driving techniques,” and now the school is dealing with a backlash that has divided the small community. In a bizarre “drill,” a school administrator told the student body that four of their classmates were killed in an automobile accident, and then later admitted that it was all a prank.
At the start of the “simulation,” the male administrator announced over the school intercom system: “We have some bad news. Four students were T-boned, as they ditched school, by a drunk driver.” Later on, the same administrator announced that the students “did not make it” and read out the names of the four “deceased” students.
The classrooms reportedly erupted in shock and despair, with some students crying and others worriedly calling their parents. The students who were pronounced dead were in on the ruse and “told not to answer their phones or notify classmates they were okay” while the drill played out.
Via the Daily Mail:
For the friends of the students supposedly involved in the accident, it was the first they had heard of anything happening.
“They went into detail about how one of them was rushed to the hospital,” Sam Bolen, a junior, told The [Washington] Post. “I was pretty upset. It is a really small school, like, most of the people really knew who they were. You kind of know who everybody is in a smaller school.”
However, about 10 minutes later, the same administrator returned and said the car accident had not happened, and the whole announcement was just “a drill about safe driving techniques.”
“A lot of our fellow friends and students actually started crying because they thought these people were actually dead and so I think a lot of them actually called their parents in school too,” Brodhead High School student Madison Trombley told NBC 5.
The stunt went from misguided to macabre when another announcement was aired which included a “tribute video” that showed pictures of the four deceased students over somber music.
Their names were read out in the announcement as Dawson Keller, Nate Seabody, Miranda Ryser and Molokai McKellar.
“Today make sure you take a moment and think about all your loved ones as those were pretty sad moments there,” the student broadcasters said in their sign-off. “As well as drive safe . . . have a good day.”
After ten minutes, the administrator announced that there had been no car crash and no one had died. The previous message had actually been part of a drill about safe driving techniques.
At the end of the day, Bolen said, there was an assembly where the school’s principal called out students who were upset.
“He yelled that ‘if anyone has a problem about it, their parents can call me tomorrow,’” Bolen said. “He was very standoffish about it.”
Reached by phone Monday, Brodhead High School Principal Jim Matthys cut short inquiries about the announcements.
“I don’t have any comment for you, I’m sorry,” Matthys said before hanging up.
The debacle was apparently the result of the grown-ups at Brodhead High School allowing the kids to have a little too much say in how the school conveyed their “safe driving” message. Matthys reportedly said that“the drill was put on by the student council as part of a year-long campaign on safe driving.”
Ryser, one of the students involved, took to Facebook to defend her decision to be part of the accident prank, saying that the students wouldn’t have paid attention to the cause otherwise.
“To the people who are upset about what happened at school today, good,” Ryser wrote. “I hope you’re upset about it because I would rather have you upset and pissed off at the student council and the principal for a day, instead of being depressed because one of your classmates ACTUALLY died. I get that some people were already affected by other car accidents but it happens. People die on the daily basis and it happens. Touchy subject or not it happens and it shows that it can happen unexpectedly.”
Brodhead School District Superintendent Leonard Lueck told The Post that the drill was intended to bring awareness to teen driving safety but acknowledged “problems with this activity due to communication issues that occurred.”
“While we stand by the worthiness of the activity, we recognize the flaws with how it was communicated,” Lueck said.
“We will evaluate the value of this activity and either make changes to how it is communicated or not do the activity again.”
My guess is that they won’t be doing the activity again any time soon.