nother racial incident has sparked controversy as Platte County School District officials, students and staff continue to grapple with ongoing threats.
On Thursday morning high school staff reported a noose made from a shoestring hanging in a boys’ restroom. The incident is the latest in a string of race-related incidents, which also have allegedly included the frequent use of racial slurs in school hallways and a Google document filled with racist and hateful speech that was opened by hundreds of students.
Platte County High School Principal Chad Sayre emailed parents on Thursday, alerting them of the situation and stating that “our district does not tolerate acts of racism, hate speech, or inappropriate, disruptive behavior. The imagery of a noose has significant impact,” the email stated. “We will follow our board of education policies to hold students accountable for their actions,” the email said.
In a statement emailed to media, Superintendent Mike Reik said high school administrators “immediately began an investigation” which included not only interviewing students but also a search of video surveillance outside the restroom.
The statement also mentioned the earlier Google racist rant and asked parents, students, staff and community members to follow the principle of “See Something, Say Something” by calling the district office or reporting tips or other safety concerns through the district’s SafeSchools Alert system. The program is accessible on the homepage of the district’s website and each school’s homepage and is located on the left side of the screen under “site shortcut,” and below “how are we doing?”
Although school officials are still investigating the most recent incident, they have identified those responsible for the Google document incident and “discipline is being handled in accordance with our board of education policies,” according to Laura Hulett, communications director for the school district.
She added that the central office will communicate with parents once the investigation of last week’s incident is complete.
Nina Mathews, parent of a high school student, said the district’s response to last week’s incident was swifter and more appropriate than in the past.
“They called it what it was,” she said, during a telephone interview, adding that “the narrative has changed.”
Mathews was one of three parents who spoke at a recent school board meeting and called out administrators for failing to address racist speech and threats. She said the district “has a responsibility to stand in support of those targeted” and believes she and the others who spoke finally have been heard.
District officials are in the process of forming a new parent/community task force, which should meet for the first time in January, Hulett said. An already existing Diversity and Equity Committee established to address district wide racial issues, met following the school board meeting in November and is scheduled to meet again next week, Hulett said.
Additional task force plans will be established after collaborating with committee members.
District officials told members of the committee that the process of establishing new district policies regarding racism will not be immediate as they gather information from other districts to determine their policies regarding racism. In addition, any changes must be made in accordance with regulations set by the state. Hulett said officials already have identified “some information on potential policy revisions as well as some contacts for outside consultation in these matters.”
Mathews praised district efforts to address racism with new plans but believes “it should be treated as an urgent matter” and actions should be “more transparent” and that parents and students deserve to be notified of progress. She added that administrators should set a timeline for action, “even if the timeline is that of small steps.”
She believes some of the racist actions could stem from the district’s growing pains as it is becoming increasingly more diverse and “some are resistant to that.” She also realizes families must assume some responsibility.
“You can’t control how children are reared in homes,” she said, adding that she wants to make sure her requests of the district are realistic.
Mathews said she has been asked to be a member of the new task force and is anxiously anticipating next steps, including notice of meetings. She added, “I’m just waiting for the green light.”