Rash of racist school incidents demand administrators act quickly

Schools are holding rallies and spreading messages of acceptance.

Courtesy of Facebook
Courtesy of Facebook

Although racist incidents had been a frequent occurrence on school campuses long before Donald Trump won the presidency, his election prompted a rash of cases in which students have used white supremacist language against their classmates. In many of these cases, they also invoked Trump’s name or campaign messages.

Administrators and teachers have been grappling with how to address this outbreak, and how to send a message that racist messages aren’t acceptable at their schools. Many school districts sent out statements opposing any kind of hateful rhetoric at their schools, contacted police, and promised swift disciplinary action. Some of the schools said they will have discussions and assemblies about why racist and xenophobic statements are unacceptable.

Students at Maple Grove High in Maple Grove, Minnesota, noticed graffiti on a bathroom door with the words “whites only” and “Trump train” the day after Trump was elected. The school contacted the police and began investigating who was responsible. A parent told MPR News that students passed around cookies and posted messages of acceptance on their classroom walls in response to the incident. It’s unclear if there will be any further action on the part of the school to address the school climate.

In Spring Lake Park, Minnesota, graffiti in the girl’s bathroom reading, “Go back to your home” was discovered the day after the election. After photos of the graffiti circulated through social media for a couple days, the administration responded on Facebook.

“I certainly understand that emotions may be running high after this week’s election,” wrote Spring Lake Park High School principal Jane Stevenson. “However, we will not tolerate any statements, actions or behavior that violate our policies on harassment or discrimination. We have and will continue to work to make our school a place where each and every students feels safe, valued and has a sense of belonging.”

Stevenson said the student responsible for the graffiti would be disciplined according to district policy and referred to the police for criminal charges. It’s unclear if district policy considers white supremacist epithets to be grounds for expulsion.

Students organized a rally on Friday afternoon to talk about the graffiti. Students also posted left more than 300 messages in the school rotunda that promoted “love, healing, and equality,” according to WCCO, a local television station.

“The fact that we are coming together shows that we agree that the hurtful comments are not right,” junior Maryam Laid told the station.

After students discovered multiple swastikas drawn in Westland Middle School in Bethesda, Maryland on Friday, administrators notified the county police of the incident and sent a letter to parents saying, “We are very saddened by this incident. This type of behavior will not be tolerated.”

Montgomery County Public Schools Spokeswoman Gboyinde Onijala told Bethesda Magazine the administration would follow up on the letter by organizing conversations between faculty and students.

“The fact that we are coming together shows that we agree that the hurtful comments are not right.”

Students at two schools in Oregon went beyond writing racist messages and harassed their classmates. The day after the election, two students were suspended from Silverton High School in Silverton, Oregon for yelling “Pack your bags, you’re leaving tomorrow” at Hispanic students. This occurred during a pro-Trump rally held in the school parking lot. A student also brought a Confederate flag, which a school official ordered put away.

At North Bend Middle School in North Bend, Oregon, students shouted “Go back to Mexico” at a student. Administrators decided to hold an assembly and informed students that “two or three steps, or recurring actions would lead to suspension,” district superintendent Bill Yester told The World. At High Desert Middle School in Bend, Oregon — where several Hispanic students say they were similarly targeted — school officials said in a statement that the school does not “allow bullying, harassment or discrimination,” or “hateful language or behavior.” But it’s unclear what actions the school took to discipline students, OregonLive.com reported.

A photo of signs separating water fountains by race sparked outrage in First Coast High School in Jacksonville, Florida. The district superintendent, Nikolai Vitti, told the Florida Times Union that the school is “investigating the matter to determine who is behind the action to provide the appropriate discipline and counseling.”

Students have also been disciplined for their efforts to shame racist statements in the aftermath of the election.Two Shaker Heights, Ohio teenagers were suspended from Shaker Heights High School after attempting to raise awareness of racist language through social media. One of the two students, Shaker Heights junior Elena Weingard said a former friend posted something racially insensitive on Snapchat, so she took a screenshot and posted it herself. The other student who received a suspension, Myahh Husamadeen, posted it on Twitter.

“I think people were hurt to see that this kind of racism still exists. Especially in such a place in Shaker Heights, where everyone seems to be liberal and seems to be accepting, and I think people were hurt,” Weingard told Fox 8 Cleveland.

The school’s administration told the students they had been suspended for “disruptive behavior,” and the student who made the initial comments has not been disciplined, according to the local television station. The American Civil Liberties Union has stepped in, telling the district that disciplining its students violated their first amendment rights.

“It’s disappointing that instead of using this situation as an opportunity to teach young people about free speech and racial justice, school officials resorted to punishing these students for standing up for their convictions,” ACLU of Ohio senior policy director Mike Brickner told Cleveland.com.