Tombstone display angers mother of Greensburg Salem student killed in crash
Parents are looking for answers from the Greensburg Salem School District because photos circulated on social media of classroom decorations later removed after being deemed inappropriate.
The images show a classroom door covered in dark-colored paper with the phrase “the party's over” in red lettering above cutouts of tombstones labeled with the names of deceased former students.
Tonia Patterson is the mother of one of those students. She was at work when calls from friends notifying her of the display started coming in Thursday.
“My phone would not stop ringing,” said Patterson, a nurse. “I had people calling crying. Her friends were just emotional. They were like, ‘This is crazy.' ”
By the end of the day, Patterson's supervisor also saw the photo online.
“This was like her death all over again,” Patterson said.
Patterson wants to know why these decorations were displayed in the first place.
Her daughter, 19-year-old Sheila Fennell, was killed in a crash in May when her car flipped over and struck a road sign on the Parkway East near Monroeville.
The Allegheny County Medical Examiner's office ruled Fennell's death an accident caused by blunt-force trauma of the head and neck.
Superintendent Eileen Amato issued a letter Thursday to parents, also posted on the district's website. It stated that classroom doors were decorated as part of Red Ribbon Week, which takes place in schools across the country each year. It is intended to promote drug education and awareness and to encourage students to make safe decisions.
“One classroom door was decorated with good intentions but was insensitive to the memory of former Greensburg Salem students who have passed away,” the letter said.
The display was removed after it was brought to the attention of the administration.
Patterson said she received a phone call from high school Principal David Zilli and Assistant Principal Joe Maluchnik apologizing for the situation. She also spoke with Amato.
Patterson thanked Zilli and Maluchnik for the apology but wants answers from the district.
“That's a Band-Aid. Let's fix it. Let's address the issue of why it happened,” Patterson said.
Zilli confirmed Friday that the display was part of Red Ribbon Week activities and was among at least a dozen other displays around the school related to the theme of making good decisions.
“The intent was to say that these things hit close to home, and it can happen here,” said Zilli, who added that the message was not delivered the right way.
The teacher and students who designed the decorations in question did not consult the families of the students whose names were used.
“It was not done with the permission of the family members, which I think is insensitive,” Zilli said. He apologizes to those families, students, alumni and the greater Greensburg Salem community.
He said that the administrative team will meet to determine the next steps.
Jamie Martines is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org, 724-850-2867 or on Twitter @Jamie_Martines.