Bay Port objects to speaker's mental health presentation; district issues apology

HOWARD, Wis. (WBAY) - Howard-Suamico's superintendent released an apology to the district after students, parents and staff objected to a teen mental health speaker's presentation.

Jeff Yalden, who is billed at a Teen Mental Health speaker, gave a presentation Thursday at Bay Port High School.

Students and parents took to social media to express their feelings about the presentation. That started a back-and-forth between Yalden and students and staff on Twitter.

The Howard-Suamico School District says it decided to cancel a second event with Yandel at Bay View Middle School.

World languages teacher Justin Nelson tweeted, "This is 100 percent the right decision. Self-reflection of your messaging and tone is critical. The misogynistic, homophobic, and egotistical message of your speech will now be spared at Bay View. Perhaps you were unaware of them, but they were present."

Nelson followed up with a second tweet, "Now, in the midst of tweets, retweets, and replies, let's not lose sight of the most important: mental health. Today triggered a number of people in very different ways. Make sure you always practice self-care and seek help when needed. National suicide hotline: 1-800-273-8255."

@AudreyNowak tweeted about Yalden, "The intent behind your message today at Bay Port is truly appreciated. However, your delivery dramatically missed the mark, and in fact, distracted from the important message. A for effort; F for impact. I graciously wish you a better outcome next time. That is 'how my heart is'."

Student @KadrilikGarrett tweeted, "I personally will not take any mental health advice from someone who comes into my school and embarrasses students, inappropriately talks to girls, and can't control his tongue."

Some people voiced support for the presentation and called it "excellent."

Jeff Yalden responded with a series of tweets:

"Dear @BayPortHS Community: It’s been a long night. Heart hurts heavily. THANK YOU: school counselors, staff, teachers, admin, students. I honestly thought we had a great day. You are all amazing! I only wanted to speak from my heart and plant seeds. NEVER would I hurt anyone."

"I’m here for anyone to have healthy conversation about my message, intention, how I deliver my talk, etc. I will not address anyone who can’t use their real name or just wants to be hateful or mean."

"You all have every right to feel as you feel about me or my talk. Just remember, growth mindset or fixed mindset? Did I say something positive or beneficial to you for your success and wellbeing? Can you objectively look at the message and the messages within the message?"

"Did I spark conversation? Sure did. That’s a good thing. We are talking. Healthy talking / debate is good. Did I allow anyone to look at themselves a little deeper? That’s good. Lastly, if I made anyone feel uncomfortable, I’m sorry & I apologize: Natalie or Ben - Sorry."

"Finally, accusing me of sexual assault is very serious and could be crippling to anyone’s career. I’m very hurt by this. Be careful what you say on social media. These allegations are criminal, wrong, distasteful, and hurtful. I wish you all the very best. My heart to yours."

We spoke with a family who says they did some research on Yelden and claim this isn't the first time this has happened.

"This isn't the second or third time this has happened," Bay Port parent Michelle Legois said. "He clearly is not an appropriate speaker for young children and children of this age."

Action 2 News spoke with Yalden Friday. He said he has never in 27 years of working in his business experienced a reaction like the one at Bay Port.

"I said, hey, if you're looking for a speaker that has an easy flow to his talk, you're looking at the wrong guy. I don't stand behind a lectern, I don't lecture. I engage the kids. I try and take a message that is boring and depressing, and I have a combination of truth and humor," he told us by phone.

Yalden said he's getting hundreds of messages from parents, teenagers and people apologizing and embarrassed about the reaction on social media.

Yalden says he spoke to about 2,000 students at Bay Port from 8:30-9:55 a.m. and then did one-on-ones with other students. He also spoke to about 400 parents and administrators Thursday evening. Yalden tells Action 2 News that it was his decision to cancel the event at Bay View.

Yalden says he wants an apology and has spoken to his attorney about possible legal action.

Howard-Suamico School District says they are not doing on camera interviews at this time but shared the statement that was sent to parents and staff:

Dear Bay Port Families, Staff, and Students,

Mental health and wellness is an important and timely topic. In an effort to address this emerging area of concern, we invited a guest speaker to present on May 2 to Bay Port students during the school day and to the community later that evening. The speaker was also scheduled to speak at Bay View Middle School today.

I am writing to extend an apology for the presentation at Bay Port High School yesterday which did not reflect our high expectations for a message on this topic. We hold all adults that interact with our students to a high standard. While we recognize that some students and parents had a positive response, we received substantial student, parent, and staff feedback to inform our decision to cancel at Bay View today.

We have a procedure for selecting speakers for the best interests of our students and staff. We are reviewing that procedure in order to improve future experiences.

Our commitment to the important topic of mental health and wellness will be reflected in ongoing conversations and programming in our schools guided by our HSSD leadership team and community partners. We are encouraged by the dialogue this week and we are reflective in our approach moving forward. Thank you in advance for your continued understanding and support.

Together,

Damian LaCroix
Superintendent

Yalden wrote a book called "Teen Suicide: The Why Behind America's Suicide Epidemic." His website says he is "the most in demand high school motivational speaker in the world."

The website says Yalden has been diagnosed with "major depression, bi-polar type 2, and PTSD."