Students were invited to discuss their concerns during lunch periods on Nov. 18 in response to a racist post discovered late last week. The post, made to Craigslist by a Central student, included an image taken in Central’s cafeteria of an African American student with the title “slave for sale” and a caption that said: “Hardworkin thick n**** slave. For ‘da’ low.”
The administration was made aware of the incident on the morning on Nov. 15.
“We quickly wanted to investigate,” Principal Bill Wiesbrook said.
On Friday afternoon, Wiesbrook sent an email to parents responding to the incident.
“The sentiment being displayed is not reflective of NCHS,” Wiesbrook wrote. “We hold our students accountable for their behavior, which includes appropriate disciplinary consequences. We will continue our efforts to educate our students to be more culturally aware and to produce good digital citizens.”
In a school-wide announcement on Nov. 18, Wiesbrook called the incident “embarrassing, inappropriate and unacceptable.” He ended his announcement with an invitation for students to voice their frustrations in Student Services during fourth, fifth, and sixth hour forums.
Claire Yu, Central’s Student Ambassador to District 203’s Board of Education, shared Wiesbrook’s disappointment.
“It’s kind of disheartening to hear about this because if you want your school to be on the news, you want it to be [there] for a really good reason,” Yu said. “To see our school on the news for something like this, it’s just not what Central’s about.”
The Central Times was barred from attending a meeting by Assistant Principal of Student Services of Angie Ginnan and a Student Services secretary, who told reporter Cameron Rozek that it was intended to be a “group therapy session” and viewed the Central Times’ presence as a violation of students’ privacy. Rozek was eventually allowed to attend as a student if he agreed not to report on the meeting.
Wiesbrook estimates that 12-15 students attended the open forums in total.
“I’m glad we offered that opportunity and got a chance to listen to some of our students,” Wiesbrook said. “[They] brought to my attention that perhaps [there] are more incidents that are racial in nature that have occurred in Naperville Central, or that do occur, that are inappropriate that I didn’t know about.”
While Wiesbrook has made it known that school administrators located and disciplined the individual who made the racist post, school administrators are prohibited from disclosing the specific repercussions.
“When determining disciplinary consequences, we have to consider a myriad of factors that might not be apparent to the public,” District 203 wrote in a statement to NCTV17. “For example, Illinois Senate Bill 100, which is now state law, prevents public schools from using policies that require suspension or expulsion in response to particular student behaviors, such as “zero tolerance” policies, unless required by federal law or state code.”
A number of parents took to social media to discuss the issue, where some believe that the student was suspended for a few days, a consequence they feel would be too lenient.
The Craigslist listing is the latest of several racially insensitive incidents involving Central students and social media over the past few years. On Sept. 11 of last year, for example, a student posted “f*** immigrants & f*** muslims. remember who committed these acts on 9/11. #MakeAmericaGreatAgain” on her Instagram story, drawing backlash after it circulated around the school.
Rakeda Leaks, District 203’s Executive Director of Diversity and Inclusion, worked with Jennifer Rowe, District 204’s Executive Director of Student Equity, to lead a workshop on implicit bias in September and trained participants to identify and overcome unconscious attitudes they harbored. The district will host Focus 203 sessions on “Implicit Bias and Courageous Conversations” on Nov. 23.
Yu cited implicit bias workshops as an example of the district’s efforts to address inclusivity.
“If you look at it on paper, I think the board can probably outline certain steps that are being taken,” Yu said. “But I also think that it’s really hard for adults to tackle this issue because they’re trying to get [at] it from a statistical standpoint, [even though] I feel like a lot of [a student’s tolerance] is [influenced by] the student’s own environment.”
Wiesbrook views technological proliferation as a contributing factor to the incidents.
“The first five years I was here, almost nobody owned a cell phone,” Wiesbrook said. “[As] cell phones started emerging, incidents started happening that hadn’t happened before. I’m sure that during the last four or five years, incidents of inappropriate social media or electronic communication has increased.”
Yu, however, believes that the incident requires a greater amount of attention and reflection than it has received.
“It was brought up by Principal Wiesbrook, but everyone kind of moved on,” Yu said. “If there’s some way we can integrate the topic of racial diversity into the curriculum in a place that doesn’t feel awkward or forced, I feel like that would be the best way [to address intolerance].”
NBC 5’s Regina Waldroup ended her report on the incident by mentioning that parents told her that they would bring up the issue of the post and its aftermath at the District 203 board meeting Monday evening, but Central Times reporters who attended said that no such discussion took place. Sinnika Mondini, Executive Director of Communications at Naperville School District 203, told Rozek after the meeting that it was a school-level issue rather than a board issue.
Cameron Rozek contributed to this story.