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‘Disgusted by it:’ Whitefish Bay High School students accused of using racist language

WHITEFISH BAY -- Whitefish Bay students are accused of using racist language. The Whitefish Bay School District sent home a letter on Thursday, April 4, informing parents about the bad behavior and the changes that need to happen.

"I was kind of surprised to be honest," said Ayo Kolawole, student.

Whitefish Bay High School

It is not the behavior students at Whitefish Bay High School are used to.

Aaron Ghilardi

"Just kind of shocked that someone at our school would think it's OK to ask someone that," said Aaron Ghilardi, student.

There is surprise after students are accused of using racially charged language.

In the letter sent home to parents, Whitefish Bay District Administrator John Thomsen informed parents that some kids are looking for permission to say the n-word. The letter reads in part "...asked African-American students if they can have a 'N-Pass, black-pass or black card.'"

"It's kind of sad I guess someone would actually do that. It's kind of just like a let down," said Ghilardi.

Thomsen tells FOX6 News, a small number of students are accused of using the language. Two instances happened during extracurricular activities this year and last year. The other at a non-school related event.

The kids were disciplined and were not able to participate with their teams.

Whitefish Bay High School

"I'd be offended if someone asked me that," said Ghilardi.

During classes Thursday, teachers talked to kids about the behavior.

"My teacher was talking about how he was disgusted by it," Ghilardi said. "He didn't even know that it was a thing and he just was like sad that it actually happened at our school."

A lesson in bad behavior a district wants to see change.

Whitefish Bay High School

"I think this is definitely something we can move on from in the future," said Kolawole,

Thomsen says these instances were not originally reported to the district but later came to light. He is encouraging parents to have a talk with their kids. The Whitefish Bay School District is trying to figure out a long-term plan so this doesn't happen again.

Read the full letter sent home to parents below:

April 4, 2019

Dear School District of Whitefish Bay Families,

As a District, we are committed to providing a nurturing, safe, and supportive environment for all students. When there are events that are counter to this mission we feel it important to act with expedient purpose. Harmful and discriminatory language has no home in the School District of Whitefish Bay.

We are writing today to inform you of recent reports of troubling student behaviors. We have learned of events involving a few students in the School District of Whitefish Bay who have asked African-American students if they can have a ‘N-Pass, black-pass or black-card’. In essence, students are asking their classmates to grant their permission to use a racial slur that has been used both historically and present-day to demean, disrespect, abuse, oppress, and hurt people of color. This is not acceptable to us.

It is vital that the District strive to protect all students. It is also important to recognize that a great majority of our students consistently make thoughtful and respectful decisions, and for that we are grateful. While this may be part of a larger societal trend and there have been a small number of community and co-curricular school reports to administration, in our conversations with some students it appears this is a more common occurrence than reported.

We are deeply troubled to hear that any of our students believe that it is appropriate to use this kind of abusive, racially-charged language under any circumstances. There might even be times in which our adolescents attempt to rationalize this question and/or the use of that harmful language. We believe that the value of respect for all and the condemnation of harassing and degrading language is echoed throughout our parent community.

Our goal is to foster a positive, inclusive, and respectful community that values the diversity of all students and families. In the near future, our middle school and high school leaders will address the “N-Pass” and other derogatory names with the middle school and high school students in age appropriate ways outlining why this is not acceptable and what the consequences are for using this kind of language. If we find there are similar reports at our elementary schools, we will address the issue there as well, in a developmentally appropriate manner.

Parents and guardians, please consider this an opportunity to engage your child on this very important topic as you deem appropriate. If your child reports to you they have asked another student for a N-Pass, explore why they feel the need to use this word or other harassing language. Try to understand how they are rationalizing it so that you can help shift their thinking.

Possible questions may include:

  • Have you heard this kind of language at school, or in the community?
  • Do you know the meaning of this word, both in historical and present-day context?
  • Do you understand how hurtful this word or other kinds of hate/derogatory speech is to many of your
    friends and classmates?
  • Would you know what to do if you overhear someone asking for a “N-Pass” or using that word?
  • Are there other derogatory words you find yourself or your friends using?
  • What might be the consequences of using this type of language in various settings both inside and
    outside of school?
  • Would you know what to do or who to talk to if you feel you experienced harassing language or a racial
    slur?

If your child experiences this type of behavior while at school, please contact your school principal or complete the following form - Potential Bullying or Harassment Notification.

We believe in the power of our collective ability to help our students reflect upon the impact of their actions and language. As a district, it is imperative that we are intentional about the work of cultural competence and relevance when it comes to race. In your conversations with your children, they may present you with questions you’re not sure how to answer. We may not know the answer either, but we stand ready to partner with you to help explore these questions. By working together, I know we can continue to make the School District of Whitefish Bay an excellent and equitable environment for every child.

Make no mistake, there is no place for this type of language or other harassing language or behavior in the School District of Whitefish Bay and it will not be tolerated. We greatly appreciate your partnership and ongoing support. We expect that principals will be following up with you in the near future on how they are addressing this important topic with students. Should you have any questions or concerns please do not hesitate to contact me or the principal at your child’s school.

Respectfully,

John W. Thomsen - District Administrator

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