Washington State high school grapples with racism & anti-LGBTQ bias
Police and school administrators are grappling with an apparent hate crime and a rise in incidents of racism and anti-LGBTQ discrimination at Monroe High School, located about forty minutes Northeast of downtown Seattle.
The latest incident occurred last week in the school’s parking lot just before lunchtime. Mobile phone video footage circulated on Snapchat, TikTok and Instagram showed a white student repeatedly calling a Black student the ‘N’ word in a confrontation, and at one point, the white student hits the Black student in the head with a plastic water bottle.
Monroe police spokesperson, Commander Paul Ryan told media outlets that the confrontation was brief and that a student tried to deescalate it before the school resource officer stepped in.
The Everett and Snohomish County newspaper, the Daily Herald, reported that in a letter/emails sent to parents last Wednesday evening, Monroe High’s principal Brett Wille stated that the school administration is working with Monroe police on their investigation.
“It is with great sadness that I write to let you know about an incident that occurred today at Monroe High School involving racial slurs and aggression towards a Black/African American student,” Wille wrote. “This incident occurred in the parking lot during lunch time and was witnessed by a handful of other students, was video recorded, and was possibly shared on social media. It also resulted in additional police presence on campus and we are partnering with law enforcement in their investigation of this incident.”
In an open letter to the community last Friday, Superintendent of the Monroe Schools District, Dr. Justin Blasko wrote:
“I am writing to you today in response to a recent incident of racial harassment and assault of a Black student at Monroe High School. We are devastated that hatred and intolerance has manifested itself in our school district. We recognize that this incident causes our underrepresented and traditionally marginalized students and families to be fearful, angry, and to question their own sense of belonging in our school community. My heart goes out to these students and families and I commit that, as a system, we will continue to learn and grow together.”
Blasko then cited the District’s policy; “The Monroe School District will provide equal educational opportunity and treatment for all students in all aspects of the academic and activities program without discrimination based on race, religion, creed, color, national origin, age, honorably-discharged veteran or military status, sex, sexual orientation, gender expression or identity, marital status, the presence of any sensory, mental or physical disability, or the use of a trained dog guide or service animal by a person with a disability.“
He added, “These words are meaningless unless the reality of our environment is reflective of anti-discrimination. The incident this week demonstrates that we must continue to come together to learn, grow, and commit ourselves as a community to do better.”
However, according to the Daily Herald;
Racism has been an ongoing issue in Monroe schools. A survey conducted by the student-led Monroe Inclusion Collective found that, out of 89 respondents, over 57% had experienced racism in the district. Similar amounts reported experiencing anti-LGBTQ+ discrimination or sexism.
Those incidents were most likely to occur outside the classroom but on school grounds, as is the case with the most recent episode. And almost 82% of respondents said they did not report their experiences to school leadership. Their reasons included not trusting staff and a lack of representation among leadership.
Of those that did report racism or other discrimination, again nearly 82% said they didn’t feel safe after doing so.
Students presented the survey’s findings to the Monroe School district Board this past January.
Melanie Ryan, board president of the Monroe Equity Council, told the paper
“All of those students and their families have continually expressed ongoing issues of bullying and harassment and various types of incidences that just haven’t been adequately addressed by the district,”
“What will ultimately decide whether we progress or not is going to likely be the students themselves,” Ryan said. “The students will have a powerful ability to put pressure within this system to say we don’t accept this anymore.”