Incidents of students using racially charged language — and particularly a screenshot of a text message that showed an Olathe North High School student referring to black students using a racial epithet — outraged the school’s students this week and caused the principal to send an email to parents.
“We had a small number of situations in the last couple of weeks where students were sharing messages using words with each other in text messages, on social media and in person that upset other students,” Olathe Public Schools Assistant Superintendent of Administration Erin Dugan said Thursday. “That came to the attention of the administration (Wednesday) and caused a substantial disruption to our school.”
Dugan would not elaborate on the nature of the incidents other than to say they were racially charged and unacceptable. She also declined to provide more information about the ethnicity of the students the messages were directed toward, citing student privacy.
But tweets and Facebook posts circulated by Olathe North students in the past few days show dismay and anger at racist behavior at the school, particularly a specific exchange shared on Twitter.
On Tuesday, a student posted a text message conversation in which one boy asked the other whether he wanted to “go up to the office and raise hell” about black students at the school. He used a racial epithet to describe the black students.
More than 150 people interacted with the tweet, and it was shared 30 times.
Most responses by students expressed outrage, and at least one tagged Olathe North High Principal Jason Herman in a post.
Olathe Public Schools is considered one of Johnson County’s most diverse school districts. Forty-five percent of the district’s students are nonwhite, according to Kansas State Department of Education data.
“I find it unbelievable that someone can go to the most diverse high school in Olathe and feel that it’s necessary and nonetheless ‘OK’ to say something like that,” said an Olathe North senior who did not want to be named for this story but expressed dismay that “in 2016, this hatred is still being shared amongst students.”
A day after the conversation was posted, Herman shared a similar message with students, reading a statement over the intercom system, said Maggie Kolb, the district’s director of communications. Herman reminded students that intolerant behavior was unacceptable, according to a transcript of his statements that was later sent to parents.
“Eagles must always think before they speak, text, post or tweet,” Herman said. “You are always representing North. You are always an Eagle. Make sure what you share values others and represents the kindness and compassion for which Olathe North Eagles are known and respected.”
He also asked students to resist posting “inaccurate” information on social media as they expressed their outrage and frustration regarding the situation. Social media posts indicated some confusion about how students — and which students — were being disciplined as a result of the situation.
Later that day, Herman wrote an email to Olathe North families regarding “several incidents in which students were harassed based on their race and/or ethnicity.” Another student told The Star that the text message was one of several racially charged interactions at the school in recent weeks.
Herman has not returned a call and email requesting comments from The Star. Both Dugan and Kolb said he would be unavailable Thursday.
Herman “felt strongly that this language, these words were not appropriate and didn’t represent our school community and our values,” Dugan said. “He felt a responsibility to say, ‘This isn’t appropriate. This isn’t what we believe in.’ ”
The senior student said that while he hoped that those who participate in such harassment are punished, he was inspired by how swiftly and vehemently his classmates condemned messages of hate in the school.
“North always comes together as a family in times of need,” the student said. “And that is the one thing I love the most about my high school.”