About 1,000 students walked out of Illinois’ Homewood-Flossmoor High School in protest of how the administration responded after four classmates posted video of themselves in blackface making racist remarks about Black girls.
The mini-rebellion took place around noon on Tuesday, with students pouring out of the school and into the street, past police who had been instructed to try and keep them within the grounds. The walkout lasted no more than a few minutes.
The sophomore students, one wearing a sweatshirt emblazoned with the high school’s logo, their faces smeared with black paint — which was used to belittle African-Americans after the Civil War ended in the 1800s to quell civil rights demands, as the History Channel recounts — drove through town, at one point going to a fast-food drive-through. They videotaped themselves and posted it on social media.
While the four teens’ behavior took place off school grounds and over the weekend, fellow students said that lack of proper education was part of the cause.
“All our history classes we learn about wars, fights all these other things, but we never get deep into black history,” student Colin Gates told ABC 7 News in Chicago. Student Jack Schmiz said the school needs to offer an African-American history class.
In walking out, students aimed to voice their displeasure, distance themselves from such behavior and hold school officials accountable.
“The administration is honestly making it to be not a big thing, and it really is,” student Karina Duncan told the network.
School officials had learned of the ill-conceived prank over the weekend, when they were inundated with calls and emails about the offensive social media posts.
“The administration immediately requested a meeting and met with all of the families and students involved on Sunday afternoon,” wrote school district Superintendent Von Mansfield and Principal Jerry Lee Anderson in a letter to parents on Sunday. “The social media postings that were seen and heard were not representative of the high expectations we have for all students that attend our school. This type of behavior is contrary to our expectations, is being addressed quickly and appropriately and will not be tolerated.”
Letters also went out from the Board of Education and the school district itself.
“These students’ unfortunate activities, which took place off campus, are unacceptable and do not meet the expectations we have of Homewood-Flossmoor students,” school board officials wrote in a separate letter to the community. “The District 233 Board of Education condemns these actions.”
The district also noted that since the behavior did not occur on school grounds, there was little they could do.
That wasn’t enough for many, though, and parents met with Mansfield on Monday, according to CBS News Chicago. Others called for stronger disciplinary action than was taken.
“I would like to see the students expelled,” parent Dr. La-Shawn Littrice told NBC Chicago. “I would like to see some cultural sensitivity training. It should have been done proactively, but now that we’re dealing with it — let’s face it head-on.”
In another letter, on Tuesday, Mansfield and Anderson said they would support the student walkout and in addition would allow time on Wednesday for students to speak informally and process the events.
In addition the district and school board vowed to step up diversity and inclusion initiatives already underway.
“Homewood-Flossmoor High School will continue to stand against racism, and against insensitive and disrespectful behavior of any kind, and will take the appropriate and necessary actions to ensure that all students are respected, that our differences are embraced and that our unity is celebrated,” wrote school board president Steve Anderson and vice president Gerald Pauling II in their statement. “We are proud of the diversity of our community, and we will continue to work with our students, staff, administration and community to protect the values we have worked so hard to establish and instill in our children.”
The kids are alright.
Students at Homewood-Flossmoor high school stage walkout after video of classmates in blackface surfaces on social media. Kenzie Ave. closed as students march down street. @nbcchicago pic.twitter.com/rasJwh9S9v
— Chris Hush (@ChrisHushNBC) April 30, 2019