hree parents spoke to Platte County School District officials at a meeting of the school board Thursday night, explaining how they believe a recent social media racist rant is not isolated and officials are not addressing the problem.
About 60 people attended the meeting in which the parents shared their concerns about the racist post, a lengthy, emailed Google document, which contained hate-filled language, including detailed description of how to torture and humiliate African Americans.
The post was emailed to hundreds of students in the district and is indicative of the school culture, the parents who spoke at Thursday’s meeting said, and requested that the administration and staff act immediately.
Leona Baskerville, who is a parent and teaches in the district, said she has tried to address the racist culture with district officials, but has been dissatisfied by their inaction.
“I’ve repeatedly gone through the appropriate channels and this is my last hope,” she said.
Baskerville, who is Hispanic, said officials seem to view such instances “only through the lens of privilege.” She said she’s heard students routinely refer to areas where groups of minority students gather as “the jungle, ”“little Africa” and “the Grandview triangle” and that staff in buildings not only don’t discourage such statements but often offer no reprimands.
She stated she was incensed by administrators’ reaction to other incidents including pulling a Muslim students’ hijab and taunting her, and an incident of hanging nooses in the restroom.
After their investigation into the noose incident, district administrators said they and police had determined the incidents were not “hate crimes,” she said, adding, “This is terrifying on multiple levels.”
Parent Nina Mathews said her complaints also had not resulted in district action and she finally contacted the press out of frustration.
“You have to walk the walk and make it uncomfortable for bigotry,” said Mathews, who is African American and whose daughter attends the high school.
“When you don’t call it what it is, you tell every child of color…they don’t matter,” she said.
Corichia Martin, said her daughter, Kenidy Brisco, an eighth grader at Barry middle school, has been taunted and bullied and has even noticed that some teachers treat her differently when compared to Caucasians.
Richardson said she believes district officials hide behind being careful not to stifle students’ free speech, but in the process allow racism to flourish.
In some cases, the unfair treatment has negatively impacted her daughter’s grades, she said.
While administrators at the school have intervened after she has complained about her daughter’s treatment, she is tired of fighting the battle, she said. After allegedly being discriminated against on the cheerleading team, her daughter decided not to try out for the squad this school year. Richardson described the experiences as “disheartening, awkward and uncomfortable” and leading her daughter to decide to enroll in another district next school year.
Last week, Superintendent Dr. Mike Reik sent an email to parents, apologizing for the recent social media racist rant and called the incident “hurtful to our students, parents, community, and beyond…yet it has given us an opportunity to hear from many of our students and parents who feel their voices have not been heard.”
The letter continued, stating that the district’s diversity and equity committee will meet and “continue charting a path forward. I expect some action will be taken immediately following the meeting, and some action will be deployed over time.”
Reik added that the “important work” will require “sustained collaboration with our students and parents. We will need your input, your insight, and your critical feedback to ensure our actions have the intended positive impact.”
Reik has said district administrators are investigating the racist rant to learn who was responsible for its creation and dissemination but said responsible students will not be identified and their punishments probably will not be divulged in order to protect their privacy.
Angie Knudsen, a parent of Platte County High School students, who spoke at the meeting, said the district’s culture was apparent when she heard about the nooses in the bathroom, but her son did not think to mention the incident at home. When asked, he said he was aware of the act but kind of shrugged it off, indicating the frequency and acceptance of such racism.
Knudsen, who is Caucasian and a learning and development consultant for businesses, said part of her role is dealing with diversity and inclusion in the workplace. She said it’s clear the district’s diversity committee is well-intentioned but officials are not good at implementing change based on discussions.
She said she could help officials devise a plan and has asked to be on the committee but has never been allowed to join, and instead is told maybe she could be a part of the group in the future. Knudsen said she’s hopeful the district can improve.
“I’m not pretending I have all the answers,” she said. “But I’d like to see some positive changes for inclusion during my students’ time in the school district.”