racist rant, emailed to hundreds of students and staff in the Platte County School District last week, has led some parents and students to complain that the issue is far from an isolated incident, but instead indicative of an overall culture that is tolerated by district officials.
The school district says a student at Barry School “shared a Google document with all district email addresses, which provided editing rights to all with access.”
School officials believe a student copied the text directly from a hate-fueled website. Some are alleging the lengthy emailed Google document, which contained hate-filled language that went to far as to detail how to torture and humiliate African Americans, is part of a larger problem in which R-3 students face no consequences for using racial slurs while traversing the high school’s hallways, pulling on a Muslim student’s hijab and hanging paper nooses in the restrooms.
Nina Mathews, whose daughter is a sophomore at Platte County High School, said she stepped out of a work meeting to immediately telephone a school principal after her daughter forwarded her the document. She was assured district officials were reviewing the matter and planning a course of action.
But she and other parents say that such student behavior is not dealt with and instead is allowed to persist. While school officials responded by holding an assembly designed to educate students about racism, Mathews said the district’s attempts illustrate a long-standing pattern by school officials of “sugarcoating and sweeping under the rug” behavior from racist slurs to students with confederate flags flying on their cars.
As evidence, Mathews, who asked that her daughter’s name not be used in order to protect her privacy, said school administrators asked her daughter why she shared the racist message with her mother, indicating officials’ desires to keep the incident from public view. But Mathews said she believes it was appropriate for her daughter to share with her the message.
Mathews said she would like for district officials to apologize and to be truly sorry that the behavior has been allowed to persist.
“’I’m sorry this happened to you with school resources, on school time,’ ” is what students want to hear,” she said.
Instead, past incidents, including some impacting Mathews’s sons a few years ago, cause those complaining to believe “nothing is going to change,” she said.
Therefore, she contacted local television news stations to report the incident.
R-3 Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik said that officials take such matters seriously but he admits there is room for improvement and that officials are “listening to criticism…and taking appropriate actions.”
Reik said he was unaware of the patterns of behavior and language by some students and “could not in good conscience allow that to happen.”
He called the matter “an opportunity to address an area of needed improvement.”
He added, “We need to hit this issue head-on.”
Reik said district officials formed a diversity and equity committee, which he called a nod to collaboration. In addition, staff received some diversity, trauma and inclusion training at the beginning of the school year.
“We deal with staff criticism on almost every front,” he said of the district’s more than 500 employees. “Everybody has opinions.”
However, Reik said due to privacy laws, he will not name the student(s) disciplined and probably will not be at liberty to release information about their punishment because doing so could reveal their identity.
Reik pointed to the district’s policy as outlined on the website, which defines bullying to include “oral, written or electronic communication, including name-calling, put-downs, extortion or threats.” The policy also addresses cyberbullying, which includes the above as transmitted electronically and includes punishment such as detention, in-school and out-of-school suspension or expulsion.
However, Leone Bakersville, who teaches at Barry School and has children who attend district schools, said she believes district policy needs to be changed to specifically address this type of hate speech and one-time incidents.
Previous cases, including when some students hung nooses made out of paper in a school restroom, did not call for action, officials said, because they were one-time incidents instead of repeated acts.
She said the district’s lack of response has led students to feel “a lack of trust and faith…and to have to worry about their safety.”
Reik described the district’s challenges, including its growth in students from a diverse background and that schools are “a microcosm of society,” indicative of a “racism and hate present throughout the country.”