Leo Hayes principal defends refusing yearbook memorial to dead student

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Leo Hayes principal defends refusing yearbook memorial to dead student

The principal of Leo Hayes High School in Fredericton is defending his decision not to allow a memorial to a dead classmate of next year's graduating class in the yearbook.

Benjamin Dodding was riding his bicycle in October 2015 when he was struck and killed by a car.

The 14-year-old was not wearing his helmet and police said at the time that there was no criminal aspect to the death. 

Some students have pushed to remember Dodding in the high school yearbook because this would have been his graduating class. The move has been blocked by the administration.

Brad Sturgeon, the principal of Leo Hayes, said the school has moved away from permanent memorials, either at the school or associated with it, to protect students from having to relive a loss.

"For example, memorial walls … they were walking by this and they were basically reliving the event, reliving the trauma, being reminded by these things," Sturgeon said.

Online petition

Allison Pelkey, a friend of Dodding's, started the online petition, which asks that his picture be included in the yearbook.

"[I'm] not asking for a full page or a whole dedicated for Ben," Pelkey wrote on the petition's website.

"I'm asking for something, anything, even a little photo in the yearbook for Ben Dodding, who was my best friend and brother to me."

As of Thursday afternoon, the petition had received close to 2,000 signatures. Leo Hayes has 1,686 students, according to the Anglophone West School District.

"I'm the one buying the yearbook, I would love to see something like that," Pelkey said, promising to keep pushing for a memorial of some kind.  

With all the support she's received, she said she's hopeful Sturgeon will change his mind.

"It's almost as though they want to push it in the past, as in 'we shouldn't have to keep remembering this tragic thing that happened,'" Pelkey said.

But in the next few years, she'd like to look through the pages of her yearbook and see Ben there, she said. 

"That's going to help me get through what's happened. We want to honour him the right way … we all loved him."

Touched by the support

Ben's family has been overwhelmed by the support from friends and classmates.

"We are very proud of Allison, Ben's friends and the student body for taking a stand for something they believe in — wishing to honour their friend who they love and miss," said Ben's mother, Trina Dodding, in a Facebook post.

"We should, in fact, learn to stand together and support those grieving, which is exactly what the student body appears to be doing. We are touched by their love for our boy."

Sturgeon said the administration's nixing of the yearbook memorial doesn't other memorials.

The school is moving toward what he called "temporary memorials," such as scholarships or fundraisers in a dead student's name.

"We've encouraged students to hold an event," Sturgeon said. "It's been done a couple of times now … they raise some money and they've made a donation to a cause in memory of the student."

Sturgeon said students are divided on how best to remember Dodding.

"I've already had students on the other side of this, that have approached me, saying that … they want to remember Ben in a certain way, but don't want his picture or any recognition in the yearbook," said Sturgeon.

"They don't want to be reminded."

Other students said Thursday that it would be nice to honour the late teen in yearbook.

Allen Nash, a childhood friend of Ben's, almost broke out into tears when he saw the online petition.

"I would love to see Ben's photo in the yearbook," said the Grade 11 student. "A lot of people knew him and a lot of people loved him. He was like a brother to a lot of them."

Although he didn't know Ben, Zach Hudlin also signed the online petition.

"It's like showing up at a party that your friend's supposed to be at and he's not there," said the Grade 11 student.

"I believed in what they're trying to do. Pay your respects — it was his grad year this year."

Criticism online

Some who signed the petition criticized the school's decision.

"Sad that LHHS [is] inconsiderate," wrote Virginia Arseneault.

Others questioned whether the school was thinking of the students.

"Everyone is so afraid of doing the 'wrong thing.'" wrote Ariel Ottens. "Ben died and his friends need this. If Leo Hayes was actually putting students first and looking after their best interests, this wouldn't be an issue. Really really bad move on their part."

Pelkey said she'll be meeting soon with the school administration.