The offensive video has touched off a cascade of strong emotions at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Flossmoor, Ill., about 25 miles south of downtown Chicago. It was the latest incident involving blackface, a racist style of face makeup that dates to the era of minstrel shows in the early 1800s, at a high school. The episode was coupled with another in Maryland, where two ninth-grade students posted an image of themselves on social media and used the n-word to describe the photo.
School administrators in Homewood Flossmoor Community High School District 233 said they were first alerted to the video Sunday morning, after calls and emails flooded in about offensive social media posts from a handful of students. The school administration quickly met with “all of the families and students involved,” the district’s superintendent, Von Mansfield, said in a statement.
But that failed to quell the growing resentment about the posts. A small group of parents met with Mansfield on Monday to express their concerns, CBS reported. And on Tuesday, some 1,000 students participated in a walkout around campus, as school administrators said they supported their right to express themselves.
Many parents have spoken to local reporters about their disgust, including some who have called for the students to be expelled or disciplined in some other significant way.
“To see them representing our school in this way when I go out of my way to represent in a positive fashion is disgusting,” parent Derrick Spearman told WGN News.
At least four students were involved in the video in some way, school spokeswoman Jodi Bryant said in a phone interview. It is not clear how many wore blackface.
Bryant declined to give more details about the incident or the ages of the students involved. The school has declined to provide information about whether the students have been disciplined.
“Please know that we understand your frustration that the school district cannot legally share specific information related to student discipline, but do know that the type of behavior these students displayed is not condoned by the school, and that we are doing everything possible to ensure that these students understand the ramifications of their actions and that appropriate consequences are received,” Mansfield and Homewood-Flossmoor Principal Jerry Lee Anderson wrote in a letter to parents Tuesday. “We are thankful to the many individuals who have reached out to us and shared their thoughts, feelings and volunteered their support and services to assist our school community as we begin building a pathway forward. The diversity of our communities represents our greatest strength and will be the catalyst that brings us together.”
Classes on Wednesday have been adjusted to allow for a 50-minute period for students to have an “interactive conversation” prompted by the incident, school administrators said.
The extent to which the public school can punish the students for statements made off-campus and outside of school hours is not clear, given students’ First Amendment rights.
“We, of course, cannot detail the actions taken with regard to disciplining specific students; however, we can say that we are handling the situation as best we can within the limits of the Illinois School Code and applicable laws,” Steve Anderson and Gerald Pauling II, the president and vice president of the District 233 Board of Education wrote in a separate letter to parents.
About 70 percent of Homewood-Flossmoor’s 2,800 students are black, but 80 percent of its teachers are white, according to data cited by the Chicago Tribune.
“The mood during the approximately 30-minute protest, which shut down portions of Kedzie Avenue and Flossmoor Road, also was upbeat and jubilant,” the Tribune reported. “Students displayed signs with messages of diversity, inclusion and equality and shouted the traditional ‘I believe that we will win!’ call-and-response chant.”
Donna St. George and Dan Morse contributed to this report.