RCS reacts to the aftermath of an incident at AHS


Dr. Shaner with binder full of emails

Jessica Leininger

On Sept. 9, Lieutenant Colonel Sherwood Baker attempted to enter Adams High School (AHS) in his military uniform and was denied entry by at least three SafeEd guards at the main entrance. After Lt. Col. Baker called in to news radio station WJR to talk about what happened, the story was picked up by Fox News and the idea that he was denied entry because he was wearing his military uniform was at the forefront of the discussion.

No district official is at liberty to discuss the specifics of why he was not allowed into the building, but there are several requirements that must be met to get into any Rochester Community Schools (RCS) high school during the school day.

According to the RHS SafeEd team leader Jerry VanHouet, one must have a purpose to get into the building, a visitor’s pass and they highly recommend identification.

“If you don’t have identification we will work with you to verify your identity,” Mr. VanHouet said.

Lt. Col. Baker was attempting to clear up a scheduling issue for his daughter, but there is no confirmation about if he had a visitor’s pass or ID on him. After being denied entry, allegedly on the basis that he was in uniform, he was soon let into the building by AHS administration, but it was too late.

Fox News published a story on their website and evening news programs, which resulted in thousands of emails and phone calls to AHS and the Rochester Community Schools administration.

Hours after the incident occurred, Superintendent of RCS Dr. Robert Shaner was on the Frank Beckmann show to apologize for what happened, and he wrote letters to the military community and to the parents of all RCS students. He has since had interviews with BBC, among other news sources, after it became a matter of national concern.

“One thing that’s unfortunate about this circumstance is the great amount of hate that it brought out,” Dr. Shaner said. “There was never a political agenda involved. There was never a district policy that says we exclude people in uniform.”

Dr. Shaner has a 3-inch thick binder full of emails from people around the nation criticizing Rochester Community Schools and its employees. He has made a point to reply to as many as he can in an effort to clarify and maintain the district’s strong reputation. Dr. Shaner said most people responded positively after he contacted them.

“I think there was some unfortunate miscommunication as a result of a very unfortunate circumstance that we immediately apologized for, but I don’t think there was any political intention to disrespect anybody,” Dr. Shaner said. “I don’t think anyone intended to disrespect a man in uniform.”

Dr. Shaner is a proud veteran himself, having served as a marine. He said it was “painful to have fellow veterans question my service.” In addition, he has lost a week of work to this incident and addressing the fallout that followed.

“We were told different stories,” AHS senior Katie Wolf said. “Originally, all I had read was the story from Fox News. Then the next day I heard from a few of my teachers that it was a miscommunication, that he didn’t have ID, that he was just trying to come into the school when he wasn’t supposed to.”

An investigation into what was said in the conversation between SafeEd employees and Lt. Col. Baker is still underway, so for now the community will have to wait and see if further actions will be taken.

“There were a lot of articles saying we were anti-American, so then the next day everyone wore red, white and blue and flags, kind of like a spirit day,” AHS senior Dayna Tan said.

AHS English teacher Julie Reese says she wishes the media had handled the situation differently.

“I don’t personally believe that the media needed to get involved in a situation that was ultimately a misunderstanding,” Mrs. Reese said. “If people could learn to speak to each other in order to resolve conflicts perhaps there would be less time devoted to non-stories and more time spent heralding the good things people do.”

Despite the negative backlash, Mrs. Reese is proud of the way her staff members responded.

“I feel it’s unfortunate that our school and staff have been cast in such a negative light because it takes away from all of the positives going on in our building,” Mrs. Reese said. “I am thankful for our office staff and administration for doing their best to handle the situation so that the teachers and students could get on with the business of learning rather than getting caught up in the negativity.”

Rochester community member Doris Brandt agrees.

“While this district may not be perfect, our respect for the military has never been unclear,” Ms. Brandt said. “Many become so immediately reactionary that they lose sight of simple things like kindness, compassion and respect. There was no pause for clarification or understanding of what took place.”

Ms. Brandt has advice about how members of the community should respond.

“We must strive for peace in our small communities and in our greater world by avoiding knee-jerk reactions, wild accusations and poised-to-attack stances,” Ms. Brandt said. “We must strive for peace by modeling compassion. Compassion for someone who may have been mistreated, but then an inquiry as to what happened and how can we make it better and how can we avoid recurrence. How will those who don’t know kindness and forgiveness learn these things if we don’t show them?”