The entire country has been upended, and a heavy weight has descended on Cross Keys High School since the election last week. If the announcement of a Trump victory wasn’t enough, we also experienced our own issues regarding racism within the walls of our own school.
When I heard about these incidents last week, I hardly had time to process what was happening. Before the week had ended, teachers had been removed from classrooms and investigations were launched by the principal and the district. Friday afternoon, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported the incident involving the first teacher. Monday, CBS46 and The Daily Beast covered it; and Tuesday, the AJC ran yet another story.
No place is immune to the effects of racism and prejudice — even a school with a diverse faculty and staff that, by and large, is welcoming, affirming, and supportive of our community. Throughout our country students have been subjected to an increase in prejudiced and hurtful comments. While these experiences are not new for Latino/as, Blacks, Muslims, Jews, and the LGBTQ community, they have become much more common and more mainstream since the election.
Students at Cross Keys and across the county, state, and nation are not going to tolerate this sort of dehumanization. Instead of keeping quiet, our students acted with strength and courage. They reported these issues to the teachers, the administrators, the counselors, the media, and their community. Because they knew they could confide in the Cross Keys faculty, the DeKalb County School District, and the press, they did not stay quiet.
I’m deeply grieved by the reports I have heard from the press, the faculty, and the students. My heart aches that our children are being exposed to so many different types of prejudice, racism, hate, and intolerance. Everywhere they look they see offensive Tweets and Facebook posts, they hear obscene remarks from random strangers in the street, and they have to listen to the dehumanizing, degrading speech of their future president.
I am proud, however, that our students are feeling empowered to speak up for themselves. The decisive, swift action taken by our CK administration and DCSD officials has helped them see that people take them seriously and that people are more likely to listen and act when they decide to collectively speak up.
This action has reassured our students that, as Quinn Hudson, spokesperson for DCSD, said, “Threatening, abusive behavior will not be tolerated in any way.”
Obviously we cannot control everything that is said to our children. This is something that I personally think about — especially as a parent. It is imperative, however, that as the adults, we respond in a way that shows our students and our children that we are listening and that we care about what they say.
“We have expectations for our teachers. Even though they have personal feelings, they have to realize that they have an audience who’s watching them and counting on them,” Dr. Green said.
Leadership sets the tone of a country and an organization. When that leadership demands a high level of respect be shown to all individuals, it helps people within the organization realize the expectations placed on them. However, a leader who leads with bullying, insulting, and threatening behavior (or turns a blind eye to such behavior), will see a proliferation of these characteristics among her/his subordinates.
By investigating the incidents with these two teachers at Cross Keys, our leadership has set a very clear and decisive tone for our school district. Hopefully that’s enough to help quell the storm that has given rise to the idea that insensitive, offensive speech is permissible to use with people who are different from one’s self.
I hope that other school districts, employers, friends, organizations, and religious groups will act similarly as we try to stem the tide against this destructive wave that is washing over our country.