Highland Park HS apologizes after students troll guest speaker

- Administrators at Highland Park High School have apologized to a best-selling author who was harassed while speaking to students.

Author Jamie Ford said he was “trolled” by the students as the keynote speaker for this year’s LitFest. He shared his experience in a scathing Facebook post and questioned if the incident was part of a deeper cultural issued at the school.

During Ford’s speech, he said the students began clapping and cheering for no apparent reason when he tried to talk, drowning him out. They even cheered at the topic of his book – the incarceration of Japanese during World War II.

Administrators say students who were present for Ford's speech on Thursday spent Monday morning in an assembly addressing what went wrong.

“Despite the 1,000 to one odds, I was not about to be run off stage by a bunch of entitled children who had decided I was just another mark to be bullied,” Ford said on Facebook.

In his post, he also brought up Levi Pettit, the alum who was expelled from the University of Oklahoma in 2015 for leading a racist chant.

“In coming to Highland Park, I thought that was an anomaly by one of your former students, a racially insensitive apple in a barrel of healthy fruit. But now I’m not so sure,” Ford said.

District officials apologized for not jumping in sooner.      

“The principal has acknowledged that he probably should have stepped in,” said Highland Park ISD Chief of Staff Jon Dahlander. “He's essentially told the students ‘I should have handled the situation better.’”

Event organizers say out of nearly 700 students, it was a small disruptive group. But all agreed that Ford didn't get the respect deserved. Students and adults apologized to him in person and via email.

“It was really surprising,” said LitFest Co-chair Anne Besser. “And the fact that he brought up other things that happened in our community that weren't related to the festival was quite a shock.”

People who were there say what happened might have been inappropriate and immature but wasn't malicious.

“They just got carried away with being teenagers,” said LitFest Co-chair Kathleen Whalen.

Ford said the superintendent apologized to him for the students’ actions. Some students have also reached out to him to apologize for what happened.

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