BALTIMORE, Md. – Students at Oakland Mills High School are “crying, breaking down” in fear of their safety after a classmate posted a message with the n-word on social media.
Senior Anna Belle told CBS Baltimore her school is descending into a delirium over the recent post, which surfaced amid heightened racial tensions in the district and community. Belle and several hundred other students participated in a staged walkout after third period Wednesday to demand school officials take action to curb the problem.
“Seeing my friends, people I love, their reaction, crying, breaking down because they didn’t know if they’re going to be safe,” Belle said.
The students streamed out of class to the school stadium, where they met with school board chairwoman Cynthia Vaillancourt, vice chairwoman Bess Altwerger and other staff on hand to listen to their concerns. Protesting students demanded an answer about how the district plans to punish the Oakland Mills student who made the offensive post, but school officials refused, the Baltimore Sun reports.
“We can’t talk about the actual consequences students receive,” Howard County Schools superintendent Renee Foose told CBS Baltimore. “That information is federally protected.”
Foose added that she supported the student walkout, and denounced the racist posts and other recent incidents of “hate” in the district.
“I want their voices heard so when we see hatred, we see acts of violence, we come together as a school, as a community, to stop it,” she said. “This is a whole lot deeper than just a social media post. This is about how students feel about one another. It’s about hatred and bias that exists in our hearts, in our minds. That has to stop.”
A Mount Hebron High School student, and another at Altholton High School in Columbia, have also faced backlash for allegedly racist online activities, and leaders in the black community are calling on district officials to broadcast district-wide notices when incidents occur, rather than the current practice of only notifying parents of students at the school involved.
A Change.org petition signed by nearly 800 asks the district to amend its student discipline policy to free officials to discuss the punishment of certain students if “the lack of knowledge regarding the student’s return is jeopardizing a safe and supportive school environment,” while ensuring “the educational records of the student will still be kept confidential in accordance to (federal laws.)”
Essentially, the petitioners want school officials to inform the public about whether students who make racially insensitive comments online will be allowed back in school, information Howard County administrators currently will not reveal.
“Many students have expressed that they feel unsafe in a school environment because of threat and the lack of communication between HCPSS administration and the rest of the community,” the petition reads. “This issue can be solved by sharing the knowledge that students, staff, and community are safe. “People should have the right to be informed if the student is expelled or when the student returns to the school/ school system.”