Racist video prompts Parkway students to call for change

CHESTERFIELD, MO - Some Parkway students hope to bring about changes in their district following a spring break video that involved racist language.  The video surfaced shortly after the district’s spring break and led to three Parkway Central High School students being disciplined.  The video also prompted a student walkout and calls for the district to do more to address racism.

Eight students spoke directly to the Parkway Board of Education during the public comment session of Wednesday night’s meeting.  Some spoke about a climate they say is not favorable for students of color.  Some of the changes they called for include social justice and racial sensitivity training for students and faculty and curriculum changes.

The district tells Fox 2/News 11 the superintendent and other district leaders have maintained open communications with students and say the dialogue continues.  Board President Jeff Todd read a statement condemning the racist video and promising to review district policies.  The statement promised to continue an effort to teach more about culture, history, and traditions that build a greater understanding and sensitivity to all people.

The district says privacy laws prohibit them from discussing details of the punishment given to the students involved in the racist video but a district spokesperson said Parkway strives to include some form of education along with punishment.  Some students attending Wednesday’s Board of Education meeting said they are hoping the district will take more action.

Below is a statement from the Parkway Board of Education president followed by the statements concerned students shared with the district’s board of education.

Statement from Parkway Board of Education President Jeff Todd:

“As many are aware, a video was shared on social media over spring break by three students who attend Central High that included racially charged language and behavior.  As this is the first school board meeting since these events occurred, I would like to take this opportunity to share our thoughts and actions and some of our plans moving forward.

“We support school and district leadership in their response to the video and the resulting disciplinary consequences.  What happened outside of school, on spring break, on a social media platform greatly impacted so many in our school community who were left hurt, offended, and outraged.  We do not tolerate this kind of behavior or speech and will not tolerate the lasting impact it may have for our students and community.

We have worked hard for many years at Central High, and across the district, to advance character education, to put social justice programs and professional development in place and to build a culturally sensitive school climate.

It is clear that our work is never done; we are always learning.  We share the concerns of student leaders who have questions about what this work looks like moving forward.  Our schools are one of the places where we all come together as a community, but we need the help of parents, students, staff, and our greater community as we address these societal challenges in our homes, neighborhoods, and schools.

Dr. Marty has met with student leaders on multiple occasions in recent weeks and we have plans to continue this conversation with our social justice leadership advisory council and other community forums. District leadership and the school board are committed to reviewing current policy and discipline practices as they pertain to racist comments.  We will continue our efforts to teach more about cultures, history, and traditions to build greater understanding and sensitivity of all people.

This recent behavior is not consistent with who we are as a community.  Students have sent a clear message that the actions in that video were wrong; that racism and hate speech will not be tolerated.  The Board of Education, along with Central High principals, teachers, and your fellow students, support your voice and stand with you to do what is right every day.

We will continue to work together, learn from each other, and support one another as we seek to deliver our mission to all in our school community.”

Compilation of Student Board Statements

My name is Caleb Tillis and I am a senior at Parkway Central. I feel obligated to state my concern about the recent event that transpired during spring break regarding Parkway Central High School students. Being African-American in a majority white school district, I have learned to have thick skin when racial comments are made towards you. When I heard what was said on Snapchat over break, I wasn't immediately upset. My frustration came from how the school district addressed the situation, how minor the discipline was, and how long it took you to make a decision if you were even going to do anything.  The superintendent kept saying that you weren’t even sure if you were responsible for dealing with the situation. Over and over the superintendent said it was his job to protect the entire district. What about protecting me and people who look like me? How are you going to change your social media policy so that when racist statements are said that affect the whole school community, harsher punishments are taken into consideration so that all students feel safe and administrators don’t have to take a week to decide if there is discipline?  You are all quick to suspend black students. Why do you have to think about it so long when the students are white?

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My name is Sophie Lowis and I am a junior at Parkway Central High School. As I am not a person of color there is no way for me to experience the hurt that many at Parkway have recently felt. But, what I can do, is help to change the culture at Parkway. We need to understand how our words affect others and how our prejudice can destroy the confidence of other students. In order to respect and embrace every student, we must have a better education. Not only history that is told from the perspective of the white man, not only about how people were oppressed in the past, but how they continue to be marginalized to this day. In order for this to happen, we need programs in the school to further the education of potential hateful people and prevent their ignorance from living on. Far too often, we try to be silent in order to not offend others or make them uncomfortable, not realizing that our silence is furthering the problem.

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My name is Ulaa and I am a sophomore at Parkway West High School. As a visibly Muslim student, my peers are not always accepting of my identity. Far too many individual students, as well as groups of students in Parkway Schools, have become targets of harassment and discrimination. Targets of racially charged comments and hateful prejudice. Their pleas for help and for reform too often go unanswered and improperly addressed. Contrary to the implications of the many, these are more than isolated incidents. We are here today to challenge the inaction and push for tangible change.

Parkway is quick to brag about the diversity of its students, but we have to go beyond that superficial pride. We must truly value diversity and make it a priority to educate students in the spirit of acceptance and non-discrimination.

We need workshops and training, for students, teachers, and administrators. We need to thoroughly revisit our curriculum to make it more inclusive. We also need faculty members that reflect our diverse student body. In addition to simply saying that we make it a priority to hire a more diverse faculty body in all Parkway schools, we need to ask ourselves tough questions, including if our school is as welcoming to minorities as we want to believe it is.

Cultivating an inclusive school community is an ongoing process. We want our school community to be courageous and intentional in its pursuit of social justice, equity, and inclusion, but we need your effort and your help to achieve that. I know it’s uncomfortable to address these issues. But I am asking you to choose to do so because students who look like me have no choice but to deal with it every day.

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My name is Kamilah Gamble, and I am a young black student at Parkway Central High. Over the last few weeks, Parkway Central has experienced another racially motivated incident. The growing sentiment of hate and racism in America is not only affecting the people in power but also our students. On top of this trauma, we witnessed our superintendent make hurtful and offensive comments when telling us how much better we have it than they did in the 1960s on multiple occasions. He also told us how he felt safer in an environment like SSJC rather than the protest to protect students. I myself am a part of a community that is always under the hardship of racism. Every day I am forced to face privileged and ignorant students who question my existence. Parkway’s problem is faced all around the country. But you, the school board can take an active stance to now protect, educate, and care for the students in the district. Parkway may be an incredibly diverse school district. But diverse does not mean inclusive. In order to better the environment of Parkway, it is important for you as the board to understand that parkway is more than just building, busses, and budgets. Its 20,000 students. When the superintendent says “it’s my job to protect all of Parkway,” I feel like he forgets that. Or he doesn’t believe us when we say that we don’t feel protected here.

In order to address the way students like me feel, we ask that there be a re-evaluation of discipline guidelines for hate-speech inside and outside the classroom. Please do your part to protect students like me. I and SPC are more than willing to continue this conversation soon and have the chance to help you make this change.

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My name is Ayaan Umar. I am a freshman at Parkway Central High School. I chose to come here tonight because I feel the current education surrounding issues of discrimination is lacking. We need more education for students on modern issues and movements, similar to the “Contemporary Issues” elective class which focuses current political, economic, and social issues including topics such as discrimination and immigration.  Given the current climate in our country and in our school, these topics are critical to American youth.

I believe the Contemporary Issues class should be used as inspiration for workshops and sessions throughout the school system. Learning about these issues will help combat ignorance and reduces discrimination, especially racism. This learning should be a normalized part of the lives of Parkway students, starting in middle school at latest. Middle school students are sensitive to what’s going on around them and developing into who they will be for the rest of their lives. They make their own decisions, so implementing these teachings could help them emulate values that will help them make good decisions and avoid discriminatory behavior.  These ideas can be brought to students through assemblies, counseling sessions on certain days, and other ways. Making such activities a regular occurrence will help reinforce the ideas into the students and they will be able to associate themselves with it. In high school, the ideas can also spread from assemblies, presentations, counselors, as well as support for more clubs that educate on real-world events. Knowledge in these affairs will not only help each student be more aware and accepting, but it will make Parkway a community that we can all be proud to be a part of.

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My name is Gracie Hagoss and I’m a freshman at Central High. With the recent events that happened at Central, I wanted to share how I feel and what I think should happen so something like this won't happen again.

I am disappointed but not surprised by the recent video.  It shows the racial tension in Parkway. It also showed me that the district is often making decisions without taking into consideration the feelings of their students. Additionally, the fact that white students feel so comfortable joking about slavery indicates they are not learning about the horror of slavery. It seems as if our curriculum is more concerned about the discomfort of white students than the truth.

We must change our curriculum. Furthermore, Slavery and the civil rights movement is not the only black history there is. There are many great African kings and queen, many kingdoms, many black inventors, scientist, mathematicians, and entrepreneurs. We are NOT just slaves, we are NOT just a group of thugs fighting for equality.  We are not just a group of people who play a part in your history. We have our own great history.

At Parkway, we feel unheard, uncared for, and we feel like we don’t matter. This curriculum needs to include all history, not just a white man’s history. Making these changes is important if we ever want to change the climate here at Parkway.  I am willing to work with you to help you make changes.

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My name is Farheen Khan and I'm a sophomore at Parkway Central High School. Beyond that, I am Muslim, brown and the daughter of immigrants. I have been fortunate enough to have the support system that has allowed me to work towards being racially literate. But this isn't the case for all my peers. Our district allows students to be ignorant; peers act outwardly racist with no repercussions or more than a slap on the wrist. Hardship based on racism is not foreign to me or others like me. I had to learn to deal with the pain that comes from people disrespecting my existence. I have put up with being called a terrorist and told I don’t belong in this country. This weight that is being carried by students of color and minorities in your care stems from the lack of racial literacy and sensitivity taught in our schools. The climate of Parkway for minority students is not even close to the caring environment the mission statement calls it to be. Unless students go looking for a racially literate education, they will not find one. To disrupt this cycle of racism parkway needs to take action towards a better and safer future. I and other students want to see the implementation of social justice and racial sensitivity training for students, teachers, administrators, and our superintendent, as well as changing of the curriculum to be more diverse and inclusive. We need policy changes. We need diversification of curriculum. We need exposure to more than just the white victors. I and the rest of SPC will more than willingly help with the creation of curriculum, and training. We hope that this is the beginning steps to a better future for Parkway.

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Good evening. My name is Zahva Naeem and I am a senior at Parkway Central High School. I am here today in light of recent events that amplified issues of discrimination and bigotry in the Parkway School District. These issues have existed long before they were put into the spotlight, and the first step towards rectifying them is to understand that they are not isolated. I have been a Parkway student since I was only eight years old, and I have heard countless students make snide or ignorant remarks about parts of my identity I should never have felt shame about. Things I could not control, such as the color of my skin or my heritage, and other parts of myself like my religion which seemed so alien to them. These experiences have allowed me to empathize with students that were targeted in recent events, and to be an ally for them.

I want to see change in Parkway. Simply talking about these issues is not enough; you must implement clear and direct disciplinary guidelines relating to discrimination in regards to, and not limited to: race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. There must be comprehensible guidelines in place regarding discriminatory behavior, such as hate speech, rather than simply suspending students under categories of “bullying” or “disruption of school”. Additionally, members of Parkway, starting with the superintendent and administration, then working down to students, need to be provided with more comprehensive diversity and racial sensitivity training in order to create a school environment that is safe for all. I am able and willing to meet with you to discuss ideas and to understand each other’s’ perspectives, I also look forward to seeing real progressive change in my school district. Thank you for your time.

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Good evening. My name is Kate Luckerman. I am a senior at Parkway Central High School, and I have been in Parkway Schools for my entire life. I am here today dissatisfied with the way our school addressed recent racially-charged threats to many students’ safety. Since elementary school, I’ve always noticed the ways that black students were talked to differently by faculty and other students; they faced a different set of expectations and punishments. Parkway has shown me how much it values my education and led me to success, but I embrace this success with the knowledge that many of my peers were prevented from taking the same path as me. All students are aware of this issue even if the administration does not address it. We grow up knowing this fact: this education system prioritizes my safety, wellbeing, and education over the safety, wellbeing, and education of minority students. Without action, this will not change.

I want a district that not only shows off its diversity but also shows its students that it values their differing identities. To protect students from those who do not respect their identity, clear and direct disciplinary guidelines addressing discrimination in regards to race, religion, gender, sexual orientation, and more must be implemented to show that discrimination has no place in our schools. The district must also provide direct and specific diversity and racial sensitivity training to faculty and ultimately students in order to educate all members of the district about the diversity that we are proud of. If you do not protect students’ identities at school, they cannot be confident in their safety at the place that is supposed to shape their young lives. I and many other students feel passionate about the changes that need to be made in our schools and we are eager to meet with any board members or administrators to provide a student’s perspective and experience regarding these issues. Thank you for your time.

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