Greendale students raise their voices, saying high school has tense racial climate

GREENDALE -- A student and her mother are fighting the girl's suspension at Greendale High School. They say she was punished after another student called her a racial slur. Conversations about race was front at center at a school board meeting Monday night, Oct. 22.

In part, the school says the students involved in the incident have been counseled and appropriate school actions have been taken in accordance with district practice. However, students who spoke out on Monday, Oct. 22 don't agree.

"I've been silent about all these things but I'm really sick of it," said Yaminah Powell, Greendale High School student.

They are raising their voices on a serious topic.

"They refuse to do stuff about it so when we react to it we're wrong," said Symone Mclain, Greendale High School student.

A group of students allege not enough is being done by the school district to address a tense racial climate among the student body.

"I've only been down to the office to talk about race and each time they tell me, we'll handle it, we're doing the best we can, or we'll get to it or just ignore it even," said Chanese Knox.

Chanese Knox

At the center of the new conference was Chanese Knox. She was suspended in September after confronting a student who she says called her the 'n-word.'

"I thought I was in the right of confronting her about the 'n-word' and that it should not be said to anyone," Knox said.

No physical violence came from it. Now, Knox and her mother are fighting to get the suspension overturned.

"They brought the police in to talk to her. I didn't get a call at all," said Chanese's mother. "It's not OK to call the cops on my daughter for standing up for herself for racial slurs."

Greendale School District released the following statement on the incident:

"Greendale Schools is committed to the safety and well-being of all students. District administration takes every student, family and staff concern seriously and investigates all matters brought to our attention. Threats, hate speech and harassment have no place in our school community.

In accordance with Federal student privacy laws, we are not able to provide specifics regarding the incident and student consequences referenced. We can tell you that the students involved in this situation have been counseled and appropriate school actions have been taken in accordance with District practice.

School administration continues to offer to work with the student and her mother to ensure she feels safe at school. We take these concerns very seriously and will continue to investigate the matters raised.

Proactive steps are being taken to improve sense of belonging, engagement, and voice for all Greendale students. These include a student council for the advocacy of appreciation and respect for diversity, and a District-wide equity committee developing strategies to address opportunity, participation, and achievement gaps. Students and staff have been meeting over the past year to focus on making sure all students feel sense of belonging and purpose in our schools.

While not perfect, we are working to improve. The District is embracing this community conversation around race and use this as a learning opportunity for ourselves, our students, and our community."

"It's not just me that's going through this situation," Knox said. "It's OK to talk about it. It is OK to use your voice and say what you need to say."

The group attended a school board meeting Monday night, to bring up their complaint.

"Help us teach our peers that racial slurs and jokes are not tolerable," said a student.

King Rick

The Original Black Panthers of Milwaukee support their efforts and want the school board to do more.

"We're asking them to do something about the racial climate at this school," said King Rick, Black Panthers.

Greendale School District released the following statement after the board meeting: 

"I want to thank those in attendance for their advocacy and support of our students and ensuring that we have safe learning environments for all students who attend our schools.  The social and emotional health of our school community is an important component of our overall safety and a priority for our school district. I see this as a great opportunity for our students, parents, and community to engage in healthy conversation about race, equity, and opportunities for all students.

Two years ago, the District engaged in a visioning and strategic planning process.  At that time, the data showed the need to focus and address equity across our district.  As a result, our District has been involved in a regional collaborative with other districts on closing achievement gaps.  Teams across the District have been putting in place strategies to increase access, opportunity and engagement for all students regardless of race, class, or disability.

Last year, the District organized students at the middle school and high school to create the council for the advocacy and appreciation of diversity.  Students at both levels did activities to raise awareness of the diversity in our schools and to promote a culture of appreciation and respect. The council will continue to meet this year to advance activities that build on the success of last year.  Students and staff have been meeting over the past year to focus on making sure all students feel sense of belonging and purpose in our schools.

Although there are many inaccuracies in the recent reports in the media regarding a student matter, this situation is leading us to a healthy dialogue with individuals who have a vested interest in Greendale High School and the community. As we meet with these community partners, I am hoping we can build in opportunities for students, parents, and the community to engage in civil discourse about race, discrimination, bias, and opportunities for our students.  While not perfect, we are working to improve and the District will use this as a learning opportunity for ourselves, our students, and our community.

Continuously creating and maintaining a positive school climate is a responsibility of everyone in our schools, and together we will listen, learn, and improve that experience for all of our students.

I appreciate the community’s continued support of Greendale Schools!"