Hundreds of students staged a walkout at Homewood-Flossmoor High School in Illinois on Tuesday in response to social media posts showing three fellow students in blackface.
The photos and video, which surfaced online over the weekend, sparked outrage among students and parents, who’ve called on school leaders to take action against the teens involved.
Tuesday’s planned protest had the support of the school’s administration, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, as students filled the streets chanting “We want justice! We want justice!”
Former Homewood-Flossmoor student Jason Hampton told the Sun-Times that the move for a protest gained steam when word circulated that the offending students would not be punished by the school — “No expulsion, no suspension, no nothing,” Hampton put it — but it is unclear what action, if any, could be taken by school authorities for behavior that was offensive but not threatening and took place off campus. The First Amendment generally protects speech from government censure.
In a joint statement, District 233 Superintendent Von Mansfield and Principal Jerry Lee Anderson said they were aware of the demonstration and that they supported students’ rights to express themselves.
“Students may choose to participate in the walkout, or choose to stay in classes and continue to process with their peers and teachers,” Mansfield and Anderson said, adding that officials would “work to ensure [that] all students are safe and respected.”
The demonstration got underway just after noon as a steady stream of parents gathered across the street, the newspaper reported.
The metro Chicago community of Homewood was roiled earlier this week after photos of a few students in blackface began circulating online. A video shows the teens going through a restaurant drive-thru with black paint covering their faces as they make derogatory remarks about African-American girls.
Nicole Brookens, whose daughter attends Homewood-Flossmoor High, expressed outrage over the incident but said she hoped it could be used as a teaching moment on racism.
“I know these kids, I know these parents,” Brookens told ABC 7. “These are my daughter’s classmates, this is going to cause more tension to an already tension-riddled community.”
Many parents took to social media to voice their anger, but others took their concerns directly to school leaders. HF High alumnus Ronald Williams and parent Dr. La’Shawn Latrice met with the principal and superintendent on Monday to discuss how to address the incident.
“We thought by talking to the administration they could see how serious this was to our community,” Latrice told the station.
During their meeting, Williams said he and Latrice demanded a meeting for the public, students and their parents.
The school released a statement Monday condemning the incident, and assured the community that it is addressing the issue.
“Though this behavior occurred outside the school setting, this type of behavior is contrary to our expectations, is being addressed quickly and appropriately and will not be tolerated,” the statement read.
Due to privacy reasons, however, officials declined to say if and how the students in question are being disciplined. Fellow Homewood-Flossmoor students claimed they saw the boy in class on Monday, but school leaders have denied this.
In a statement, officials said they learned of the “culturally insensitive posts early Sunday and immediately called a meeting with the accused students and their families that afternoon.
School leaders have promised “a school-wide conversation” in the wake of the incident but for some students and parents, that’s simply not enough.
“It’s such a diverse area, you would think there would be way more tolerance and education,” parent Tashemia Mitchell said of HF High, which has a total minority enrollment of 81. According to The Daily Southtown, the school’s Black student population is nearly 69 percent.
Two African-American students who spoke on the condition of anonymity told the paper that they’ve known the offending white students since middle school and were shocked that they would wear blackface.
One of the students said he won’t tolerate ignorance as an excuse because the white students should have known better.
““We were in the same class and we were taught [about blackface], so that’s how I know that they know what it is,” he said. “So that’s just an invalid excuse.”
Watch more in the video below.