Students protest against racism and bullying at Fort Osage High School
“No more racism. Enough is enough,” was the chant Wednesday morning at Fort Osage High School where some 200 students and parents gathered in protest of a racially charged climate they say is being exposed there this year.
The protest was sparked by a social media post in which two students threatened to show up at the school and kill African-American students. The post, which appeared Monday, used racial slurs when referring to black students.
Students participating in the morning protest came with signs that said “ Racism is alive at Fort Osage,” and “Stop the Racism, Stop the Violence.” And some shouted from makeshift bullhorns.
“I came out here because racism is just wrong,” said Brailynn Harlan, a Fort Osage freshman who is white. “No matter what color you are you have the right to be here at this school.”
Other students said they were disgusted by the post and that hate speech was being spewed by students at their school.
The protest was organized by parents and family members of black students who were threatened by the Snapchat post. Parents and students said Monday’s post was not the first incident at the school.
They said that earlier this year a Facebook post said that several white students had pulled hijabs from the heads of some Muslim students and then stomped on the head wraps. The Muslim students have since left Fort Osage High School to attend school in another area school district, they said.
But in a news conference after the protest, Superintendent Jason Snodgrass said his district had investigated the hijab claim, and after interviewing several students, “it was unsubstantiated.”
Snodgrass said the students responsible for the Snapchat threat made against black Fort Osage students had been found and were being disciplined. Snodgrass declined to say what discipline was being meted out or whether law enforcement was involved. The students making the post were not at school Wednesday, and Snodgrass declined to say why.
Snodgrass said the district sent an email to all students informing them about the racial post. He said the district was dealing with any racial tensions at the school “as soon as we are informed about it, immediately, swiftly.”
But students and parents at the protest said the problem is pervasive, and they don’t believe school officials are doing enough.
“We were told by teachers even today that if we came to the protest, they were going to write us up. That we would get in trouble,” said Summer Thorpe, a white Fort Osage student. “A teacher kicked me out of the classroom on Monday for showing other students the post. They don’t want us talking about this. But if this stuff keeps happening, Fort Osage is going to be known as the racist school.”
Snodgrass denied that any students would be punished or harassed for attending Wednesday’s protest. “We think it is always important, not only in our school but in our community, to build and foster inclusion.”
Tony Caldwell, whose grandson, a student at the high school, was among the students targeted in the Snapchat post, led the day’s protest on the high school lawn.
“We are here today because we are not going to tolerate racism here any more,” said Caldwell, who is a bishop at Eternal Life Church and Family Center in Kansas City. He told students he would come to the school every day if they asked and protest every day until school officials made it clear that students who make racial comments would not be tolerated.
Monday’s post was the second violent threat made on social media against students in the Kansas City area this week.
On Tuesday, four teens were arrested for allegedly threatening on Facebook to shoot up a Hickman Mills school.
Caldwell and other parents questioned why those students had been arrested while the Fort Osage students responsible for Monday’s post were not.
Caldwell said his grandson and other black male students at the school feared for their lives after the student who allegedly sent the post then allegedly followed it with a second post saying, “If he was stopped from getting to them at school he would hunt them down and shoot them at the QuikTrip,” Caldwell said.
“I wish I could take my children out of this district and send them to private school,” said Valarie Gregory, who has a son and daughter attending Fort Osage schools.
“My daughter has been harassed since she was in the middle school. My son is called the N-word probably six times a month. I hate this. I have another child coming up, and it worries me because the administration just apologizes but does nothing.”
Students said they plan to flood Facebook with messages this week of no more racism at Fort Osage High School where 1,351 students are enrolled and 100 students are African American.
“We are going to speak up for what we know is right in our community,” said Havyn Bell, a 10th-grader at the high school. “Even though we might have different skin tones, we are the same. We are coming here to get an education. People should not be worried about coming in to their own high school.”