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Greendale superintendent posts letter after 2 instances of students using ‘racially charged language’

GREENDALE -- A protest took place Monday afternoon at Greendale High School after two instances where students used "inappropriate and racially charged language." Video from one instance spread on social media. Though these incidents did not occur on school property or during school hours, students and staff called for change.

In the video, a student smiled while spewing hate, saying: "Black people are animals. All (n-word) are animals." This, as some of his peers looked on and laughed, and others cringed -- later protesting.

In the fall of 2018, a student and her mother fought the girl's suspension after they said she was punished after another student called her a racial slur. A group of students alleged not enough was being done by the district to address the tense racial climate among the student body.

Chanese Knox said she was suspended in September after confronting a student she said called her the "n-word." No physical violence came from it, and Knox and her mother fought to get the suspension overturned -- attending a school board meeting.

District officials issued statements after that incident, saying, in part, they are "committed to the safety and well-being of all students," and "threats, hate speech and harassment have no place in our school community."

Fall 2018 protest

Diannia Merriett organized Monday's protest, hoping for action.

"My daughter didn't even want to go to school. She is very upset. She just feels like they are second-class citizens. They want to be respected," said Merriett.

Gary Kiltz

Superintendent Gary Kiltz spoke with FOX6 on camera about the incidents Monday afternoon -- condemning them.

"Frustrated and appalled by the content of the videos. For the last three to four months, we have a student group meeting with a couple of consultants, generating some solutions around culture and ways that we can demonstrate appreciation for our growing diversity and see it as a strength for our community moving forward," said Kiltz.

Kiltz said the district has an equity plan in place, and noted banishing bias is a community issue.

"It's a comprehensive plan that includes working with our community, staff, our board and administration and working with our students. We know that we need to respond for the safety and security of our students when it comes to social and emotional and physical health," said Kiltz.

Superintendent Kiltz posted a letter on the school district's website describing the steps being taken by administrators after these incidents:

"February 22, 2019

Strong public schools and a high quality of life make Greendale an attractive place for young families to live. Greendale Schools is welcoming more and more students from a wide variety of cultural backgrounds. With this increasing diversity, we are working as schools and community to ensure Greendale sees this shift as a strength that provides opportunities to understand new perspectives and discover the similarities we all share.

Unfortunately, we have learned this week of two instances of students using inappropriate and racially charged language. While these matters did not take place on school grounds or during the school day, we have an obligation to make sure that our students feel physically and emotionally safe in our schools. 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. The use of hate speech and harassment has no place in our schools or community.

Greendale High School

Greendale Schools' administration is taking proactive steps to build practices and policies that celebrate and appreciate Greendale's diversity.  The Greendale School Board has been involved in book studies and regional conversations about equity. Staff are receiving ongoing professional development regarding culturally responsive practices. This includes how to respond to bias, discrimination, and racism.

Greendale Schools is also organizing a community leadership workshop in April with leaders from churches, government, schools, businesses, and community organizations to explore our individual and collective roles in creating an environment of belonging and support for our families. We are also planning a community forum in May with a listening session as a first step in working with community members to generate solutions to make our community a safe place to work, play and learn for all Greendale families.

Our middle and high school students are working to create a more positive climate for all students. High school student leaders are launching a survey of students, staff and the community this spring to get feedback on three possible improvement areas: appreciation of diversity, creating a stronger sense of belonging, and more effective communication. Based on the survey results, they will develop solutions and action steps to meet the needs of our students, families, and community. Please watch for and complete the survey when it is shared. I am excited by the work and inspired by the students' commitment.

I look forward to working with the community to make Greendale a great place for all families.

We are inspiring minds!

Gary Kiltz, Ph.D

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