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Activists say Kansas City is in 'a moment of crisis' after racist incidents at local schools

More than 50 people gathered at the town hall meeting at Equal Minded Cafe to discuss the recent racist incidents taking place at Kansas City area schools.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
More than 50 people gathered at the town hall meeting at Equal Minded Cafe to discuss the recent racist incidents taking place at Kansas City area schools.

Raytown South High School students walked out of classes Friday to protest the racist incidents but said their walkout was co-opted by school officials who turned it into a "pep rally."

A string of racist incidents hitting area schools in recent weeks has placed Kansas City in "a moment of crisis," Black leaders, students and their parents said at an emergency town hall Saturday.

The meeting, organized by the Kansas City Defender, the Revolutionary Black Panther Party of Kansas City and the Black Futures Coalition, was called following a student walkout at Raytown South High School and three other school districts launching investigations into racist incidents.

“Young, Black students should not have to experience terrorism, should not have to experience threats,” said Ryan X, editor of the Kansas City Defender, who called this "a moment of crisis."

“We don't have time for Black children's futures to be at stake, to be lost anymore,” X said.

The Defender reported that hundreds of students staged a walkout on Friday at Raytown South High School in protest of the series of racist events sweeping across local schools.

Last week, Raytown South students were given a worksheet that included racial slurs just days after a Raytown High School teacher used the N-word in class.

On Thursday, the Olathe school board met for the first time after a photo circulated of a white Olathe South High School student asking a white St. James Academy student to homecoming with a sign that read: “If I was Black I would be picking cotton but I’m white so I’m picking you for HOCO.”

Last week, Park Hill School District announced that it was partnering with the NAACP of Kansas City after students circulated a petition calling for the return of slavery.

Black students from Raytown South told KCUR that while these recent events were disappointing, they weren’t surprising considering the racism they face on a daily basis.

Sixteen-year-old Breanna Bonner, a senior, said she felt specifically targeted as a Black woman by school administration for things like her behavior or dress code.

“Walking through the hallway feels like I'm on trial,” Bonner said. “It feels like we’re constantly being policed.”

Raytown South High School seniors, Breanna Bonner and Christjin Bell, talk in breakout groups with other attendees about the racism happening at local schools.
Jodi Fortino
KCUR 89.3
Raytown South High School seniors, Breanna Bonner and Christjin Bell, talk in breakout groups with other attendees about the racism happening at local schools.

Bonner said she and other students felt that after school administrators asked to help with their walkout on Friday, they ended up co-opting the event and turning it into a “pep rally” that took away from the message.

The Raytown district would not comment on its investigation. But on Saturday spokesperson Danielle Nixon wrote in an email that staff participated in the student-led walkouts at Raytown High School and Raytown South High School to show their support.

“Staff participation was not intended to quiet our students' voices; the intent was to provide a platform to amplify their voices. Working together is the only way we can begin to see a positive change,” Nixon wrote.

She also said that the district has a cultural competency committee that aims to address any inconsistencies in its school policies and make adjustments where needed.

Officials at Park Hill School District, Olathe Public Schools and St. James Academy said they were investigating the incidents at their schools, but couldn’t release details on disciplinary actions because of concerns about student privacy.

Bonner said she wants to see more from local districts addressing racist problems at their schools.

“I think that we need to move past these performance activism measures that some schools are taking and we need to move into actually changing policy,” Bonner said.

She said changes include removing police from schools and changing discipline policies so that Black students don’t continue to be disciplined at disproportionate rates.

To address these problems, Bonner and fellow Raytown South senior Christjin Bell co-founded the school’s Black Student Union this week. They also want to send a message to students in other districts that they are not alone in the racism they face.

Leaders at the town hall meeting also wanted to create solidarity between districts across the Missouri and Kansas state line. They encouraged families and parents to organize amongst themselves and encouraged them to continue having conversations about racism in their schools.

Murray Woodard said he came to the meeting out of concern as a parent of two Black daughters that attend school in Blue Springs.

“When I think about the state of emergency for black students in education, I don't think about the acts that just happened here recently… because racism happens in our schools every day,” Woodard said.

Woodard said more needs to be done to elect and support Black school board members across the region.

Members of the KC Black Panther Party said they are working on proposing questionnaires and progress reports to locals to schools aimed at finding ways to eliminate systematic racism.

The Kansas City Defender said it plans on holding more town hall meetings and opportunities for local families and students.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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