H-F assembly panel MT050119_web
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Administrators try to answer student concerns through H-F assembly

After the flare-up from the weekend’s blackface postings by Homewood-Flossmoor High School students, Superintendent Von Mansfield and Principal Jerry Lee Anderson gave the student body a chance to ask them questions. Without a space large enough to accommodate all 2,800 students, the solution was to broadcast throughout the day Wednesday, via Viking TV, to all English classes. 

 

It was a Q-and-A session meant to clear the air.
  An open assembly discussion
  on the issues surrounding
  H-F students in blackface
  involved panelists including
  students, from left, Joseph
  Alexander, Kenneth Powell
  and Laila Malak with principal
  Jerry Lee Anderson and
  Superintendent Von Mansfield.

 

After the flare-up from the weekend’s blackface postings by Homewood-Flossmoor High School students, Superintendent Von Mansfield and Principal Jerry Lee Anderson gave the student body a chance to ask them questions.

Without a space large enough to accommodate all 2,800 students, the solution was to broadcast throughout the day Wednesday, via Viking TV, to all English classes. 
 
Joining the administrators were seniors Laila Malak, Kenneth Powell and Joseph Alexander.
 
On April 27, four students posted to social media photos and a video of themselves in blackface making insulting comments to a black woman employee at a McDonald’s. 

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By Sunday the Homewood-Flossmoor community was outraged by what it saw. The students and their parents met with school officials that afternoon to address the situation.

 
The four have not been back to H-F since the incident.
 
In classes Monday, students talked about the actions. Tuesday they had a 30-minute walkout to protest what the students had done, and what some perceived as inaction against the four for what they’d done.  
 
Wednesday’s Q-and-A was another outlet for students to get more information on the situation and the administrators’ actions. 
  Without a space large enough
  for all H-F students to gather,
  administrators held a day-long
  question-and-answer forum
  broadcast by VTV into English
  classes. Teacher Mark Cieselski
  supervises students in the
  control room.

 

The Chronicle was able to sit in on one 50-minute period. The program opened with an informational piece on blackface. Then Mansfield and Anderson took questions. Following is a summary. Answers have been condensed:

Is there any possibility of an apology from the students in the video?
The principal said the students and their parents were very apologetic at the Sunday meeting, and she knows one student posted an apology online and got severely criticized by people saying he wasn’t sincere because he should have known his actions were wrong.
 
“My question would be: Are we ready to hear an apology? Are we ready to accept an apology? The truth of the matter is you cannot undo what you’ve done in the past. The only thing you can do once you’ve done something that’s wrong is decide to live your life and conduct yourself in a manner afterward that makes the apology you gave to be true.”
 
Mansfield said: “These students will live with this for a very, very long time. Social media doesn’t ever go away, so if you think you’ll just keep (a post) up for 24 hours, it’s going to get passed around a year from now. It’s going to resurface.”
 
Mansfield said he hopes students have at least learned that lesson from the incident: social media posting has consequences.
 
How do you think teaching us about racism can help kids when they hear something else from their parents? The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.
“We are becoming adults and can make our own decisions,” said Laila Malak. “Parents are a big influence but there are instances where the child has to be responsible for his own actions. Sometimes we need to make sure we’re not blaming the parents all the time. We need to be aware there are many different cases in each family.”
 
The principal said parents would like to know their children will never make mistakes. It’s a way to protect them. But reality is that we all make mistakes. For teens, that’s part of growing up.
 
Why are African-American students getting punished but the Caucasian students’ actions get no punishment?
Principal Anderson disputed this assumption. “All I can see (in reviewing disciplinary summaries) is what they did” and not the student’s race. If the action is the same but the discipline is different, that’s a valid question.
 
“The intent behind the incident, the deliberateness of the situation. There’s so many things that you take into consideration,” she said. There are some student actions “that require that you just can’t be here, especially when you endanger the safety of someone else.”
 
H-F is using restorative justice in some cases, but she would like to see its use increased.
 
But the students who had a meeting about gangs got punished and these students aren’t punished.
H-F held a meeting in the fall for about three dozen students and their parents to share with them information posted on social media that could be interpreted as gang affiliation. Many students and parents believe it was unfair for students to be singled out. Many believe the wording in the meeting letter threatened expulsion.  
 
The superintendent said: “There were no suspensions. There were no expulsions.”
 
“The intent was to be able to say to parents and students, we need to have this conversation,” said Anderson, who authored the letter. “Your child is being affiliated in some way or another with gang activity. The irony is the way that we did it interfered with us delivering that message. And for that I’m sorry.”
 
Why is the administration protecting these students?
“First, I’m going to tell you of the natural consequences that those students are facing: the hate, the threats, the isolation not only of them but of their family members,” Anderson said. “And, some kids were misidentified. They are suffering as well.”
 
“The students have not been back at school. Where that rumor came from that they’re being escorted and we’re protecting them — I don’t know where that rumor came from, but that is absolutely inaccurate,” the principal said.
 
Anderson went on: “You say ‘Oh, she’s just defending.’ No, I’m not excusing it. It doesn’t mean I think it’s right. They made a bad choice. They did something they shouldn’t have done, not only in this community but wherever they are. 
 
“But I have to be able to step back. I have to be able to say ‘Well, now that that’s done, what would it be like to be in their shoes?’ I have empathy. That’s my job as a human being, not just as a principal.”
 
School law prohibits administrators from disclosing disciplinary actions in all cases, not just the blackface incident. H-F will follow all applicable rules on this case, she said.
 
What changes will be put in place to address this problem?
Anderson said all people at H-F must learn to appreciate each other and all the cultures represented at the school. 
 
“We also need to create venues to have conversations not only on culture and ethnicity but about you as an individual student,” she added.
 
“I saw students talking with each other and having conversations and many were out of anger and frustration, which is very understandable,” panelist Malak said. “But it’s also nice to see that some students are able to take that deep breath, take a step back and have these conversations. 
 
“Now we have resources, we have communities that understand this is wrong and we need conversations and I think our student body is understanding and realizing we need to have these conversations, as uncomfortable as they may be. We need to have them in our classrooms, in our communities. So I think it’s really amazing what we’re doing now and what we’ll be doing in the future,” Malak said.
 

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