A number of Enumclaw School District students attended a recent school board meeting to speak up about what they see as a toxic culture for minorities and women in their schools.
The nearly 45 minutes of testimony was prompted by Enumclaw High School students sharing a video mocking the murder of George Floyd and the backlash that followed, both against the students who created the video and the ones that condemned it.
In response to the video, the school’s ASB leadership wrote a letter to the district demanding that students and staff are appropriately and equitably punished for perpetuating or turning a blind eye toward racism and bigotry.
“As students of the Enumclaw School District, we are saying loudly and clearly that we are unequivocally denouncing not only the hate that was in the first video but also the continued hate, threats and retaliation that followed, attacking the students that were brave enough to stand up and call them out on their act,” the letter read.
The public comment period of the Enumclaw School Board meeting was started with EHS parent and local activist Megan Sheridan.
“These students don’t have the luxury of turning away and saying, ‘We’ll deal with it another time,’” Sheridan said, noting some of the pushback the letter received were from parents saying there were bigger issues, like remote learning and the COVID-19 pandemic, that needed to be tackled first. “Students face this hate and racism on a daily basis in this community. Plus, they have all the added stress of a pandemic, online learning, some of them have jobs, and they also have families. They’re saying the pain and the harm that’s been inflicted is enough. They need you to see them. They’re tired of being invisible.”
Sheridan said her family has also experienced that invisibility; while she and her husband are white, their Hornet son is Black.
“The cultural person at the high school dropped the ball as EHS when we were in the middle of a crisis ourselves. She didn’t show up for us when we needed it the most,” Sheridan said, referring to the District Cultural Support Program Manager Sui-Lan Ho’okano. “Our family is not alone in these experiences.”
Following Sheridan was Caden Bolton, EHS 2019 graduate and former ASB President, who talked about how he felt the district fails in listening to students when they report bigotry and fail to protect them when they do.
“I feel as though the district at many time is not listening truly to students… this especially comes from a time in my sophomore year, where as a class were taking a proctored exam and the substitute we had that day allowed us to cheat,” Bolton said. “He told us, actually implored us, to cheat, and sat on his phone for the entirety remaining class period. When we [eventually] told the teacher, he turned the tables on us and said it was our idea. The school district, despite many comments about his academic integrity issues, as well as uncomfortable advances and comments on students, did not listen.”
Bolton also touched on what would be a familiar theme for the rest of the night: the Enumclaw High football team and their favored status in the school.
“I remember specifically my freshman year, we were playing in a game against Federal Way, and the student section chanted the ‘n-word’ against the Black opponents on the team, to which the school district did not do anything to punish the students during the game, besides asking them to stop chanting it,” Bolton said. “Of course, this is not blind endorsement of racism, however, the tolerance in the sake of convenience, is unacceptable in my mind and has truly fostered a culture where myself and other minority students are afraid to speak out.”
This is not the first report of racist language being used at Hornet football games. The Courier-Herald received a letter to the editor in October 2018 stating “we were deeply saddened and embarrassed to find out that some of our own Enumclaw Hornet’s football players were calling other members of the Hazen Highlander’s football team the ‘n-word’ on the field. My husband’s best friend’s son was on that team. This behavior is shameful and unacceptable.”
The Courier-Herald did not print this letter, as the incident could not be confirmed at the time.
After Bolton was Audrey Crumb and Jasmine Reyes, ASB vice president and president respectively.
Crumb talked about how there are always teachers or staff at football games or in the lunchroom, yet nothing is done about this sort of bigoted behavior.
“There’s always at least one staff member at every school event, and I’ve never seen a teacher stand up to anybody yelling racist slurs at football games. And they happen all the time,” she said. “I’ve never seen anybody stand up for the kids in the cafeteria getting from thrown at them because ‘they brought COVID to America.’”
Reyes used her time to share the stories of other students who wished to remain anonymous; the story of a then-15-year old girl being inappropriately touched by another student, and a teacher responding with, “He’s a nice boy, he probably didn’t mean it”; of a senior who was being mocked for his sexuality until he dropped out; and of an Asian-American student who’s been told “Get away from me, coronavirus.”
Parents of Enumclaw students also chimed in when their children were uncomfortable.
Lauren Lilly, both an EHS graduate and parent of a student said she’s heard other students being told “Shouldn’t you be picking cotton somewhere,” and “will I get a disease sitting next to you?”
Reading the words of another parent that wanted to remain unnamed, Lilly said, “If a student can get in trouble for fighting in the summer, off school grounds… then I believe we can make changes to reflect the accountability of denouncing racism in our school district.”
A surprise guest to the meeting was Mayor Jan Molinaro, who spoke in support of these students.
“These actions of hate that I’ve heard do not have a place in our community. I’d hoped this type of attitude and way of thinking was really a part of the past and we had reached a new level of consciousness with a respectful perspective for all of our neighbors,” he said. “I would hope that people who do commit these types of actions will finally see the type of hurt and anger that their words and actions bring upon you, the young people that have spoke about these stories.”
LIST OF ‘ACTION ITEMS’
After the meeting, Bolton sent a list of 14 action items he and other students want the school board to take on in the near future. The list is below:
1) ESD will publicly state they do not tolerate hate or racism towards our students in any form.
2) ESD will publicly state they have a zero tolerance and will be adopting stricter policies against acts of racism and hate towards our Students of Color and our LGBTQ+ community
3) ESD School Board and Administration will publicly state they firmly believe that our Students of Color and our LGBTQ+ students are valued and we apologize for enabling and knowingly causing harm and pain to our students on a daily basis and not taking active steps to address it instead of ignoring it and hoping it would go away.
4) ESD will update their student handbook with specific consequences for students who engage in acts of hate, racism, homophobia, sexual assault and/or retaliation.
5) These acts will include anything done in person, via social media, on/off campus, any time students are actively enrolled in ESD.
6) At a minimum consequence should include loss of extracurricular activities, clubs, athletics, events, etc.
7) Consequences must be equitable and consistent to all students no matter their political, class or financial standing in town.
8) ESD will conduct immediate training with staff regarding overt, covert racism, microaggressions, generational trauma, lateral oppression/hate, mental health support and OSPI/HIB reporting standards.
9) ESD will create a staff, admin, coaching code of conduct with accountability and consequences clearly laid out regarding hate, racism, bullying and retaliation towards Students of Color and LGBTQ+ students.
10) Athletic code of conduct will be updated and clearly laid out to include acts of hate, racism, sexual assault, homophobia, alcohol, drugs etc with consequences consistently enforced.
11) HIB forms must be more freely discussed and available. All staff should understand what and where they are. Every student should know how to use them and be guaranteed of no retaliation from staff. Once we return to school, forms should be available in all classrooms, in every school.
12) Investigations must happen for all HIB forms turned in and investigations must be completed within 30 days of HIB forms being received by staff. Copy of HIB form must be given to the reporting student, signed and dated by the receiving staff member.
13) Investigations that have valid findings must have a report filed in the student’s permanent record.
14) All members of ESD…Staff, Students, Administration, School Board, must know WE WILL NO LONGER BE DEFINED BY HATE!