Local NAACP to host town hall after Ladue students walk out over racist incidents | St. Louis Public Radio

Local NAACP to host town hall after Ladue students walk out over racist incidents

Nov 21, 2016

Updated Nov. 21 with town hall meeting information — Ladue School District officials are "hopeful" after a meeting Friday with members of the St. Louis County NAACP, according to a district spokesperson.

The discussions came after two days of student protests over recent racially charged incidents against black students at Ladue Horton Watkins High School. Three students were disciplined.

Director of communications Susan Downing said no "solid plans" are yet in place to address students' long-term concerns, but the district is seeking the help of outside organizations to facilitate conversations.

"There's some healing that needs to be done by our students and our staff members and conversations that need to be had that we'll need some help with, and actually we started that process by having a couple of different organizations come in and speak with our students and staff and really talk about where do we go from here," she said.

The County NAACP said in a statement that "students should not feel intimidated when they come to school to learn and to better their lives."

The organization also said it will hold a town hall meeting Wednesday evening for parents, students, residents and staff to share their thoughts and feelings about race relations in the district. School officials will be present. 

The conversation, facilitated by Washington University professor of African and African American Studies Dr. Kimberly Norwood, will be held at the Ethical Society of St. Louis from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Seating will be limited and all attendees must have a proof of residency or district affiliation, like school IDs, report cards, or utility bills. 

Updated Nov. 17 with details of the latest walkout — For the second day in a row, students at Ladue Horton Watkins School walked out of school in response to recent incidents of racial aggression.

On Thursday afternoon, about 200 students sat in front of the school’s main entrance to share personal stories and show support for one another.

Their expressions of solidarity followed a march on Wednesday by more than 150 students to the district’s offices, where they demanded a stronger response to racism.

In recent weeks at least three students were disciplined by administrators — two white students for saying black students should go to the back of the bus, and a Hispanic student for burning a black student with a hot glue gun. Some say racist incidents at the high school have spiked since Donald Trump won the presidential election and they want school administrators to do something about it.

“Rosa Parks got locked up because she refused to sit at the back of the bus,” Niesha Ireland, a high school junior, said Wednesday. “You can’t put me in the back of the bus because Trump got elected. It’s not right and nobody’s gonna stand for it.”

Many gathered in front of the school at noon Wednesday to support the mother of the student who was burned. Students of color said they've experienced racism at the school and micro-aggressions from faculty. They're frustrated that school leaders have not taken their concerns seriously.

Niesha Ireland, Paige Morgan and Armon Adams lead a march back to Ladue Horton Watkins High School after confronting administrators on Wednesday afternoon.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Sophomore Tajah Walker galvanized her peers, encouraging them to ask questions, and speak up about their experiences.

“I want everyone to feel equal,” Walker said. “My little brother is in first grade, I don't want him to come here and feel this pain. I want it to change and I want it to change now.”

“They will never make me ashamed of my race,” she added. “They will never make me uncomfortable in my skin.”

Ladue Schools Superintendent Donna Jahnke outside Ladue Schools district offices.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

Staying mostly on the sidelines until the crowd called for her to speak, Superintendent Donna Jahnke told the crowd Wednesday that she and her staff are working to fix the situation.  

“There is no doubt in my mind that people are angry and that people are upset,” Jahnke said. “I’m trying to listen and I’m trying to understand so that we can figure out how to move forward. [We need to] come together on a plan on how we move forward.”

After about 45 minutes administrators left the high school campus, leaving many feeling dismissed. Students said they only feel supported by a small number of faculty, specifically social studies teacher Shante Lyons. For the first time during the protest, they grew silent, to hear him speak.  

Social studies teacher Shante Lyons is one of few faculty members black students say they trust to understand their concerns.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

“I understand you’re angry, I understand you’re upset, but it’s a thinking man’s game. So let’s put ourselves in the best position to support each other, love each other, and hold each other up,” Lyons said. “You may feel like the world is against you right now, but you still got people that love, care and respect you.”

In response to being left mid-conversation, students decided to march to the district offices about half a mile away. There, they crowded around the entrance of the building and repeatedly asked to speak with Jahnke.

When she emerged, students questioned how officials apply the school’s code of ethics, using personal anecdotes to point out discrepancies in how students of color have been disciplined over white students. Throughout the protest, the group asked for harsher punishments for the students involved in the bus and hot glue gun incidents.

Students linked arms to demonstrate unity during a planned walk out on Thursday afternoon.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

After a few hours, both sides were unsatisfied. Administrators promised future conversations but did not not offer any plan of action. Another walkout is planned for Thursday afternoon.

“Take this tomorrow, and you educate the ignorant at school,” sophomore Sydney Alexander said to her peers. “If you see anybody laughing, or you see anybody making fun of this situation, you educate them.”

A student hugs Lynette Hamilton, the mother of a 16-year-old who was burned with a hot glue gun.
Credit Carolina Hidalgo | St. Louis Public Radio

On Thursday afternoon, many of the 200 students who gathered outside wiped away tears and held hands as classmates told stories about facing discrimination and bullying because of their race, sexual orientation, religion and physical appearances.

"It's not even, at this point, about fighting the administration," sophomore Sydney Alexander said. "We want to do that. But this is about coming together as a student body."

For more than two hours, students sat together and applauded each other for opening up. Many of the students had not previously known each other but vowed to stand up for each other.

“You stick up for your peers,” Alexander said. “That’s just the human thing to do. You do it when you see injustice. This is what we’re here for.”

Clarification: According to the school district, a Hispanic student burned a black classmate with a hot glue gun. 

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