‘It needs to be addressed:’ Parents, school officials respond to Whitefish Bay HS racism incident

WHITEFISH BAY -- Whitefish Bay Middle School and High School are having a conversation about race after some students asked African-American students if they can have a pass to use the N-word. The district is encouraging parents to speak with their children on behavior that will not be tolerated.

The superintendent told FOX6 he's received plenty of feedback from parents -- mostly positive, as many felt this was an important talk to have with their kids. Nakesha Jackson is a mother who's son was asked the question now at the center of a letter.

Nakesha Jackson

"I think it's a much larger issue that needs to be addressed," said Jackson.

Jackson's son is enrolled at Whitefish Bay Middle School. She recalls a recent incident of her son showing her a Snapchat video of a classmate using racially-charged language. She informed the school of the video -- and then learned her son had been asked a disturbing question in school.

"He's approached and he's asked, 'Well, can I get the N pass?'" explained Jackson.

Whitefish Bay High School

She's now among district parents that received a letter that says some kids "...asked African-American students if they can have a 'N-pass, black-pass or black card" -- in essence, students looking for permission to say the N-word. Parents were encouraged to have a conversation about the issue with their children.

"What do you say to the parents that are already having these conversations with their children? Because their children are having these conversations with them," said Jackson.

In response, FOX6 spoke with Whitefish Bay Superintendent John Thomsen on Friday.

He said, "This was our attempt to shine a light on this issue. It is a continuing conversation to get a better tomorrow for all kids. We don't believe for a moment that this is unique to Whitefish Bay. It is our responsibility to work on it."

Jackson told FOX6 her son's response to the letter.

"The consensus I'm getting is they don't feel the conversation is necessary because it is not going to produce an results," said Jackson.

But Superintendent Thomsen said the district wants to hear from students so they can get a better handle on the situation. As of now, they know of only a small number of students accused of using this language. He is encouraging all students who have experienced this sort of behavior to contact their school's principal or fill out a report available online. Students can remain anonymous if they wish.

Whitefish Bay High School

"We need to come together as a community," said Jackson, who feels the solution starts with unity. "The home and school, we need to come together and we need to be on the same page and work towards a common goal, and see that these kinds of things don't happen."

In regards to that Snapchat video, the superintendent says the video incident was off campus grounds. However, he says he's deeply concerned about events like this in the community, and they will work with the school and community to make that better.

Whitefish Bay High School

Below, you can view a statement that teachers read to students on Friday, April 5 -- provided by Whitefish Bay High School Principal Mike O'Connor:

You may be aware that yesterday, a letter was sent from our Superintendent to your parent/guardians.  I hope that your parents shared the contents of that letter with you as you will be held accountable to the behavioral expectations outlined within it.  To summarize, the district has been informed of a small number of incidents in which students are asking for an “N-Pass, or black-pass” from their peers; essentially, kids are asking their classmates for permission to use a racial slur that has been used both historically and in present day to disrespect, abuse and oppress African-Americans.   The purpose of the letter going out to all families is to make clear the expectation in our schools. Under no circumstances will we tolerate the use of this racially charged language, nor any other hurtful names or slurs. Students using this language, or asking for permission to use this language, will face disciplinary consequences up to and including suspension, according to our harassment policy.  Moving forward, we invite any student who observes someone using discriminatory language, or is the victim of racially-charged or hurtful language, to report it to Mr. Rose, Mr. O’Connor, or any of your teachers immediately as we are committed to fostering a positive, inclusive and respectful community for each of you. All students deserve to attend a school that is safe and supportive and it is all of our jobs to make that happen.  

We know that many of you may have questions, or want to talk about this further.  This is certainly a conversation that is critical for us to have, but today is not the right time. For now, all staff across the building wanted to make you are aware of this expectation so that we can end this kind of behavior.  Moving forward, your teachers will be meeting to discuss next steps, so please share any ideas you may have with us. Thank you.

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