Parents and community members spoke in support of the administration and school board at the District 233 meeting Tuesday, after several speakers roundly criticized their actions in light of a blackface incident April 27. Despite the criticisms, including personal attacks against Superintendent Von Mansfield, parents came forward to applaud the administration’s actions in dealing with the incident that was posted on social media.
Parents and community members spoke in support of the administration and school board at the District 233 meeting Tuesday, after several speakers roundly criticized their actions in light of a blackface incident April 27.
Despite the criticisms, including personal attacks against Superintendent Von Mansfield, parents came forward to applaud the administration’s actions in dealing with the incident that was posted on social media.
“When I hear people stand up and personally attack our superintendent, our principal and our board it makes me angry because it’s not about Dr. Mansfield, it’s not about Dr. Anderson. It’s about our kids and our school,” said parent Leah Bailey Langston.
“I am one person but I believe they did exactly what they legally, ethically, morally had the obligation to do. Nothing is perfect. No response would have been perfect, but the response that they gave was as good a response as they could give in this situation.”
Mansfield and Principal Jerry Lee Anderson focused on what the administration and school board have done to deal with the four students who wore blackface, verbally assaulted a worker at McDonald’s and then posted the incident on social media.
The administrators talked about how H-F students have reacted to the fallout from the event.
“We’ve done so very much in response,” Mansfield said.
Anderson said she learned of the incident at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday, April 28, less than 24 hours later after it happened. By noon the students and their parents were in her office for a conference, she said.
Parents and guardians of H-F students were contacted by email on Sunday evening. One speaker addressing the board said that was too late. “You should have gotten out in front of it,” she told the board.
Throughout the past few weeks, the administrators have met with parents and students, approved a student walkout on April 30, held a question-and-answer session open to all students on May 1, attended a number of outside forums, including peaceology sessions led by Peter St. Jean, welcomed Rev. Jesse Jackson as a speaker at the high school, and hosted two parent forums at H-F.
School board president Steve Anderson said he thought Jackson’s was the right message and he appreciated his emphasis on how to deal with racism when he told students “what determines the person you become is how you react to it.”
“I couldn’t be prouder of the way I’ve heard how students have reacted and taken a step, listening and learning and understanding. It’s been a follow the child moment for some of the adults,” Anderson said.
One speaker said the Jackson presentation “negated how students felt” and another said Jackson’s presentation at a peaceology program at Flossmoor Community Church was “just a show. He doesn’t speak for me.”
Another complained that Anderson and Mansfield left the peaceology program after they addressed the audience. He argued they should have been part of the discussion. Mansfield explained that he left because he was on his way to another event.
Several speakers argued the school response was slow, it didn’t take into account how some students felt and administrators failed to look at the boys’ actions as racist.
One mother stepped forward to remind the audience: “These are still children that we are talking about. It has to be dealt with accordingly and appropriately.” She urged the board to “continue to hold your heads up and know you have a (community) support system.”
“We, Team H-F, will be there with you,” another said.
Pam Jackson was sworn in as a board member April 23, and found herself dealing with her first school crisis five days later.
“It’s easy for us to focus on anger, pain. I’m hopeful that we learn and grow from this. We need to learn what is the lesson from this and make it a teachable moment. We need to get there,” she said.
“If I could just ask everyone in our community to be patient. This is going to take time. I’m confident we’ll get through it and be better for it,” Jackson added.