Liberty parents call for changes, consequences to address racism in school district

Jennifer and Anthony Richardson posted a video to Facebook explaining their frustrations with the Liberty School District.
Jennifer and Anthony Richardson posted a video to Facebook explaining their frustrations with the Liberty School District. Facebook

Anthony Richardson, a parent and youth basketball coach in Liberty, has had a 10-year-old tell him he doesn’t want to be black anymore and his own daughter has been called the N-word more than once by other students. He says such incidents are common in the Liberty School District and that in most cases “it seemed like (the administration and teachers) didn’t really care.”

Richardson and his wife, Jennifer Richardson, are demanding change and posted a video to Facebook last week. They told The Star that while racism has been present in Liberty “as long as people have been here,” awareness is increasing as the student population becomes more diverse and the national political climate becomes more hateful.

The Facebook post came just months after a Liberty North student sent a Snapchat video to a black female classmate with the caption “a rope, a tree .... hang the n*****.”

The Richardsons are asking that the school district build a more diverse teaching staff, establish and enforce a zero tolerance policy for racism, create a system to hold staff accountable when enforcing the policy, and require diversity training for teachers and staff.

They also are in the process of scheduling a meeting with Liberty superintendent Jeremy Tucker.

In addition to meeting with the Richardsons, Tucker told The Star that he may create some community engagement opportunities about the issue.

“It starts with listening and empathy. We want to ensure that students and families all feel that they have a voice and from that conversation guide steps moving forward,” Tucker said.

The Richardson’s 14-year-old daughter is an eighth-grader at South Valley Middle School in Liberty. Anthony Richardson said she will “randomly just start crying” because of the racism she faces at school.

“We’re in an area that has been known to be predominantly white and that’s changing,” Anthony Richardson said. “I don’t think there are things in motion to make students of color feel welcome.”

Tucker said the district is engaged in an ongoing conversation of policy review and there is “always room on which we can improve upon.”

“We have done quite a bit of work with diversity and equity from the creation of a community committee,” Tucker said.

That work has included leadership work groups, focus groups, surveys and discussions about strategic planning and policy changes. Tucker said he has no definitive timeline for when policies could change.

The Richardsons said one of their primary concerns is with consistency in district response and consequences for students.

Tucker told the Star that, while there is no specific policy for racial issues, those incidents are covered in its harassment policy.

The policy provides a variety of consequences for first offenders ranging from a principal/student conference to expulsion depending on the severity of the offense. Tucker said the administration also tries to bring students together for conflict resolution, engage parents and search for teachable moments.

“No two situations are the same and we rely on our administrators to be able to evaluate circumstances,” Tucker said.

Anthony Richardson said that, in his view, current policy is either not well enforced or needs to be rewritten. He said the use of racial slurs in the classroom should be punished more harshly than other offenses and that the punishment should be public rather than a “slap on the wrist.”

Racism and the lack of a clear policy to address it has a negative impact on students of color across the district, Jennifer Richardson said.

“You have the other students who have taken it to an extreme they don’t want to live anymore,” Jennifer Richardson said. “Just because the bullying won’t stop and they feel they don’t have anyone in their corner.”

She said racism is an “engraved” part of the culture in Missouri that has been exacerbated by an increase in hate speech and the election of Donald Trump. The Richardsons said that they hope changes in the district will protect other children from what their daughter experienced.

“We want all children to feel safe without having to deal with the constant hate or no support just because of the color of their skin,” Jennifer Richardson said.

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Luke Nozicka covers local crime and federal courts for The Kansas City Star. Before joining The Star, he covered breaking news and courts for The Des Moines Register.

Katie Bernard covers Kansas crime, cops and courts for the Kansas City Star. She joined the Star in May of 2019. Katie studied journalism and political science at the University of Kansas.