I’ll be honest: if anyone had asked me when I went to high school in Briarcliff if our high school would ever be the subject of an article in the Huffington Post, or any major Post for that matter, I wouldn’t have believed you. Because this town is – was? – is, a safe community that has always, for better or worse, sheltered those families who live in it and whose kids attend its schools. I got a great education here, met some amazing friends here, created many memorable relationships with teachers and coaches, and made some fantastic memories on these fields with wonderful teammates. Those are a lot of positive adjectives attributed to one place, one community, from someone who, ask most people, doesn’t frequently (or ever) proclaim “I absolutely love B-cliff.” Going to high school here was hard at times, but I always felt that, for the most part, Briarcliff High School treated me with respect and so I left with a mutual respect for it and those that ran it. I still have that respect.
What I don’t have is peace of mind. And this article confirms that not many people do regarding this issue. A few months ago, I took up my virtual pitchfork and joined the throngs of Facebook posts decrying BHS and Briarcliff Manor Union Free School District, saying that the administration and school board’s actions were contrary to protecting the very kids that schools exist to educate and protect. But upon reading more into this, I think it’s dangerous to just ‘Share’ and add harsh words.
I understand why people are mad – I’m mad! I practiced on those fields for years. I was part of a team that won BHS the right to its first Girls Soccer State Championship sign and my little sister was part of the team that won the next two. All of my best friends played on those fields, and I can count myself lucky that I was someone who knew Demetri if only for a short time. We’re all invested here. Jenny was on my team for years in high school, and she’s right, it’s a really small town and everyone does know the names. And that means that everyone is mad, scared, angry, confused. But just because we have someone to point a finger at, doesn’t mean the blame is just. At least not until we all hear the whole story. The important thing to take away from this article isn’t ‘well, who should I blame?’ The important thing to take away is who can we look to to give us the answers that we, as members of this community, deserve?
Dr. Fran Wills has always been an educator and community member that I admire, and I believe her when she says that there was no malicious intent on the part of anyone at Briarcliff when it comes to these fields. These people are educators who at their core want to teach children and do right by children. The levels were tested, maybe not as frequently as they should have been, and the results of these tests were definitely not publicized as they should have been. And I do think that the fact that people have to dig for this information is a problem. The fact that members of the school board, like Lisa Tane, didn’t think to ask means they didn’t know enough and weren’t presented with enough information to prompt them to ask.
But I sit here conflicted now. “Whether the suspected carcinogens in the soil of the Briarcliff fields contributed to the startling number of cancer diagnoses among young people in the area in recent years can’t be known definitively.” That’s an important part of this article that the emotions we’re all feeling will probably make us overlook. And this is the against the grain point of view, but we can’t just blame. We need answers, we need information – and that we can demand. I’m demanding it. I want to know what they knew, who knew it, when, and what was or wasn’t done about it. Some of that is in this article. But to say like I once did a few months ago that this school isn’t existing to protect its students? It’s not fair. I apologize for that. But I don’t apologize for wanting information that I know this entire town wants. We don’t want to look at the BMUFSD and think that they lied and omitted information to save their own asses at the risk of our friends. We just want the truth. We may not have been getting it in real time, but the first step is to start giving it to us now.