Clarion

Administration Investigating Controversial Social Media Post Displaying “Blackface”

The updates are posted in chronological order. The latest update is May 3.

By Staff Reports

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On Thursday April 25, three students in the Cleveland culinary class received backlash after posting a picture on social media of a cake they had decorated resembling “Blackface.” The posts have since been taken down.

Administration has been investigating this incident since Friday morning April 26 but was unavailable to comment to the Clarion that morning. In a statement over the intercom around 1:35 p.m., Principal Ayesha Freeman let students know about the incident and that they were beginning a “restorative process” to help anyone who may have been hurt or harmed by this event.

 

Update April 29, 4:27 p.m.

 

Friday April 26, culinary students reported to the Clarion that culinary teacher Alan Joynson was escorted from his classroom by administration during second period without explanation.

Principal Freeman sent out an email after school on Friday to immediately address the social media post. “We understand there was an event yesterday that was hurtful to our students and staff of color,” she said in the email. “We are working together towards a restorative process to heal our community from the hurt and harm that has been caused by a series of incidents this year.”

In addition, PPS Board Student Representative Nick Paesler, and student body president Peter Predisik both released statements in the email.

Cleveland High School and all of PPS has a no tolerance policy for racism and acts of hate…We are here to learn and thrive as students with our teachers and staff supporting us all through our four years.” said Paesler, a Cleveland senior.

“This moment is a teachable moment for us,” said Predisik, also a member of the Black Student Union. “This moment should not end with hate, but with education. This moment could cause fear in my community, where we fear for our lives. And it can cause fear outside of my community, fear that they might be experiencing for the first time.” He added, “It should be like this: it should end in education, because we are an establishment of education, not an establishment of fear.”

That afternoon, senior Brody Kreiter took to Twitter to express his feelings over the incident as well as detail what happened. The thread quickly went viral and was picked up by several news outlets including The Oregonian, who then wrote a story about the incident and published it in their Sunday paper.

On Monday April 29, Principal Freeman sent out an email to Cleveland students and parents addressing the situation and their plan for next steps. There will be a student-centered discussion panel after school on Wednesday, May 1 with discussion topics including racism and healing as a community. “We are using a restorative lens to focus on the voices of students of color,” Freeman said in the email.

An anti-hate assembly called RISE (Reclaiming Indigenous identity through Solidarity and Education) will be held on Thursday, May 2 to honor the Native American community and address Cleveland’s history of cultural appropriation. This assembly had been planned prior to the recent incidents, including last Monday, when a teacher found a small rope hanging in an entryway tied in the form of a noose.

Within classrooms, social studies teachers developed a lesson about the history of  blackface and racism in the United States that they will deliver throughout this week. Students have reported to the Clarion that discussions about the social media post have occurred in classrooms on Monday.

Cleveland’s Family Equity Council, a group of administrators, parents, staff and students to address issues of race and hate speech, plans to meet for their second time on Tuesday, May 7, where they will have a community discussion on how to move forward. Anyone who wishes to attend is welcome. It will take place at 6 p.m. in the library. The council was established after hate grafitti had surfaced in separate incidents earlier this year.

Finally, Freeman said administrators will run a small Restorative Justice Circle with students who were directly impacted by this so that they can “heal together and with each other.” Freeman added that her administration team is working closely with the students involved and their families to put this circle together.

Freeman concluded her email with a statement about hate speech and racism within the school. “Ensuring that our school is a safe, respectful, and hate free space is core to our work at Cleveland. While the above events are reflective of activities just this week, we know this is something that is constant, ongoing work with our staff, students and community,” she wrote.

 

Update April 30, 10:51 a.m.

 

The afternoon of Monday April 29, a student found racist vandalism in a girls’ bathroom and reported it. In response, Administration set up a safe space for students to get support from the Cleveland counseling staff and district level supports from the student services department. The safe space opened at 10 a.m. and will be available for the remainder of the day.

We will be updating this story as it develops.

Update 5/3

Principal Ayesha Freeman held grade level meetings Friday, May 3 to address the recent hate speech incidents that have plagued the school, and to let the student body know what can be done to prevent further acts.

In her meeting with the junior class, the last meeting of the morning, Freeman said the senior class asked her to apologize for the hurt and harm that has happened this year due to the incidents of racism and hate speech. She did so, and also apologized to the junior class, whose meeting followed the seniors’.

“I will deliver a heartfelt apology for the challenges of the school year and anything I have done to contribute to the spiral of harm that has occurred this year. I am truly sorry,” she said early on in the morning assembly with the juniors.

A focus of the meeting was to talk about the string of hate speech incidents and clarify what happened. Freeman began with the first case, when a Jewish Student Union flyer was defaced with a swastika in November. After a school investigation, Freeman did not find out who was responsible.

A second incident in February occurred when swastikas were etched in a bathroom. Police took a report, Freeman said. Soon after this, a tip came in and Freeman talked to two students and their families about these incidents and told them they were offenses that could lead to expulsion. While the students did not admit guilt in the meeting, there have been no further incidents, Freeman said.

However, hate speech took on a different form. On April 22 in the early morning before school started, a teacher found a three-foot rope tied into the form of a noose. The noose was tied to a pipe in an entryway, and the teacher took it down immediately and brought it to the administration. Freeman said they are investigating all leads in this case.

More recently, racist graffiti depicting a lynching was found in a girls bathroom on Monday, April 29. This incident occurred after the blackface cake was decorated on Thursday, April 25.

At the assembly, Freeman said that she is not able to discuss specific consequences for hateful or racist speech for anyone involved, whether they are staff or students, due to laws in place to protect confidentiality. She did say that there are school-based consequences for any hate or racist speech.

According to the Student Rights Handbook, any display of patently offensive material, including racist material, is a level one to level three offense for a minor or first time offense. Level one offenders require a conference, level two means a student can be excluded from events, and level three are suspensions.

If the incident is serious or the offender has repeated this type of behavior, the offense is categorized as a level three to level four. A level four can be expulsion or delayed expulsion.

Junior students at the assembly said that the students in the blackface cake incident were still going to school and asked Freeman if they would face consequences, but she reiterated that she could not comment about it.

Earlier in the week, Student Success Advocate Charles Hunter told students attending an informational panel meeting after school on May 1 that the students involved in the blackface cake incident and students from the Black Student Union participated in a Restorative Justice circle on Tuesday, April 30. The circle was important because BSU students wanted to hear directly from the students involved about what happened, Hunter said.

Hunter led the restorative justice circle, and while not revealing many details, said the BSU students told the students involved how the incident impacted them, and they did not hold back, he said. The meeting was emotional for both sides, Hunter said.

Back at the class level assembly meetings, Freeman said the school has been responding to the incidents in various ways. She mentioned that the next Family Equity Council meeting would be held next Tuesday, May 7, as a way to address these issues, and invited students and their families to attend. In addition, staff opened a “safe room” after the recent graffiti incident as well as holding “culturally specific” meetings for students to get together and talk. The student panel Wednesday, focusing on Black Student Union response, was attended by about 100, and allowed for the Cleveland community to hear from those directly impacted by the events.

In her closing remarks, Freeman asked the students to be on the lookout for hate speech and to report it to an authority. She also asked students to be an ally for students of color and to stand up and fight hate speech. Students were then excused to go back to class. Freeman had a similar talk with the freshmen and sophomore classes earlier in the day.

The Clarion will continue to update the story as it develops.

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Administration Investigating Controversial Social Media Post Displaying “Blackface”