More than 200 students and parents turned out Monday morning to support York High School student Garrett McCann, wearing a headband in the photo above, who said he's been the target of bullying at the school because he's gay. Credit: Deborah McDermott | The York Weekly

More than 200 York High School students bearing rainbow flags and carrying signs rallied across the street from the school Monday morning, in support of a 14-year-old gay student who has been the target of bullying. Meanwhile, the bullied student’s older brother is facing criminal charges, according to his family, after he engaged in a physical confrontation with one of the alleged bullies.

The rally began at 6:30 a.m., with well over 100 students remaining past the start of school and vowing to remain there all day in support of not only the student himself, who came out as gay over the summer, but of all students who are gay, lesbian or bisexual.

“You see all walks of life from the high school out here right now,” said Nate Davis, a YHS student. “You’ve got football players, two of the captains, people from the drama club who never get involved in sports, all sorts of people. When everyone gets together for one problem you can tell that problem is big enough that you need to address it soon. That’s what this is trying to show. We’re not all from one group, but we’re all united.”

That sentiment was not lost on the bullied student, who was surrounded by friends at the rally. “It’s only about four or five or six people [who were being bullies] and look at the people here. They’re definitely outnumbered,” Garrett McCann said, adding that he “definitely” feels supported. “I mean I don’t even know some of these people, and here they are.”

According to the student’s father, Tim McCann, most of the students at the school had been supportive of his son, but “a couple of kids were bullying him” since school started. He said a lot of the comments were made by this small group on social media or on various apps. “They called him ‘faggot’ and some other crude stuff I am probably embarrassed to even say to you.”

He said his son told several teachers who suggested he speak with Principal Karl Francis, which he “never took the next step to do.” In a letter home to parents of York High students sent on Friday, Francis wrote that last Thursday, “we received some preliminary information about the ongoing conflict (between the student and those bullying him) and addressed it this morning by meeting with the parties.”

Subsequent to that meeting, the student’s older brother, also a student at York High, “physically assaulted” one of the students, Francis said in his email. “It appears now that the assault was a retaliatory measure,” Francis said. Police were called to the school and the older brother was subsequently placed into custody.

York High School principal Karl Francis said he was please to see student involvement on the issue of bullying at YHS.

“I felt it last year. I held class assemblies on bullying and asked them to take the lead on the grounds and in the halls,” he said. “I look forward to collaborating with them to build a strong and united school. We clearly hear them. I’m glad that they’re taking the initiative and action.”

York police Sgt. Brian Curtin confirmed Monday that there was a juvenile student involved in an altercation at York High Friday which resulted in the student being charged with assault. He could not confirm the student’s name because he is a juvenile.

Francis said Monday to a reporter and to the community at large, including those who have commented via social media, “please don’t assume that your understanding is an accurate reflection of the situation. A lot of information is being examined, and it’s still under investigation. I can’t tell you specific details because it begins to impact privacy right. But I can say that what is out there is incomplete. I assure you that when we had information, we acted quickly on it.”

He said he and the administration have also “taken many restorative and additional actions involving all parties” over the weekend as well. On Friday night, for instance, students appeared at a home football game wearing T-shirts that said authorities should “Free” the older brother. Many were wearing those same T-shirts outside of the school Monday morning. Francis said when he first saw the shirts, “I initially interpreted it as supporting violence. I spent half the game talking with kids and came to understand it was not about supporting violence but how do we move this school forward to support all kids.”

He said he was pleased that by Monday morning the students “were able to come from a place of anger to a place of positive action.”

Curtin agreed. He also lauded the work of fellow officers, who were on hand Monday to answer questions, to explain their role and to provide support.

“It’s been a very positive morning,” he said. “This is an ongoing investigation and I can’t share information. But it’s good to have a relationship with the students. That’s what we strive for, and I think we’ve achieved that today.”

In a statement that students handed out Monday morning, students said in part, “We are standing out here today to rally for EVERYONE being bullied, to spread a positive message of gay pride, to stand for the LGBTQ+ community and to bring awareness to hate crimes.

They urged students and supporters to use the hashtag #IStandWithYHS and others that support the gay students. “We are standing with every single student and community member to say that we will not tolerate bullying or hate crimes in our community.”

Specifically, they have asked the administration to strengthen the consequences for bullying as outlined in the student handbook, similar to those imposed for drug and alcohol infractions. Francis agreed “there is room for improvement. I think they’re right. There needs to be more specific consequences.” He said he’ll work with the School Committee and other stakeholders to bring about the change.

Senior Sophie Blanchard, who met with Francis, interim Superintendent Mark McQuillan and York police Monday, said bullying can seem intractable. “I think the problem is that it’s difficult for kids to speak up when they see bullying, because they’re afraid they are going to be a target, too. It’s scary for us to talk about this.” As a result of this situation, the senior class has made a commitment to “come out and talk to the student body. It will be better coming from us.” An assembly is planned for later this week.

She said she felt as if the administration listened to their concerns, with the result of taking “somewhat of a negative situation and turning it into a positive one.”

Tim McCann said he appreciates the students’ decision to rally Monday, and he and his wife came to the rally site to offer encouragement.

“Hopefully, this will lead to a good outcome going forward,” he said. “I’m very proud of these students. Their message is about peace and love and protecting all kids from being bullied.”

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