SALINA — Friday afternoon, the phones began to ring at the Salina School District office, shortly after the first edition of Salina Central High School’s student newspaper, The Pylon, featuring a cover story on modern racism, was distributed and posted online.
“As soon as the article came out, we started getting contacts from people who were upset and anxious,” said Superintendent Jim Hardy.
Hardy said school officials heard first from concerned parents and then from students.
Before he left the office to attend the homecoming game, the district had posted a statement online apologizing for any hurt or disappointment caused by the article and assuring parents and patrons that an investigation was underway “due to the controversies that may be sparked.”
“We’re not pointing fingers at kids,” he said. “We’re not doing that. Our investigation is: How did this come about? How is it affecting our students? What can we do to help our students get through this? How can we help ourselves grow and learn?”
The full story can be viewed here.
Hardy said although the article by Pylon editor Chloe Guillot thoughtfully explored various forms of racism evident in the school — and perhaps more evident outside school walls — many people didn’t read past a racially offensive comment attributed to student Brogen Richardson early in the story:
“Racism is not a big deal in America. Black people only make it a big deal because they are still upset about slavery, but that was in 1860 and slavery helped America. People should get over it so we can move on.”
Alyssea Fields, a senior, said she quit reading at that point. She said the comment in the paper, as well as others made since, have left a “negative vibe” at the school.
“I just feel like it’s going to divide us more,” she said.
She said minority students face many of the forms of racism that were described in the article every day, but since the article was published, “I feel like I’m being judged by so many people.”
She questioned why Richardson was allowed to quarterback the school’s football team hours after his remark was printed.
“We sought the advice of one of our African-American community leaders, and he said the young man should play or we’d be giving in to these same negative forces,” Hardy said.
Hardy said The Pylon is an extraordinary student publication, and he doesn’t mean to be critical of the student newspaper staff. But he doesn’t think the staff realized the effect the article would have on many of the very students they might have been trying to make life better for.
Several parents of minority students have said they wanted school to be a safe harbor for their children, where they could learn and be with their friends without having to deal with racism or other serious problems they might have to face outside of school, he said.
Hardy said he heard from several parents that their students want to be able to enjoy hanging out with friends while learning at school, and this “kind of took some of the shine off it for those folks.”
Marshari McReynolds, who was among parents who met with Central Principal Nate Showman on Monday morning, said her daughter had no troubles at Central until she came home crying Friday after the Pylon was distributed.
McReynolds said her daughter became upset after reading the article, and three or four other students made fun of her and started using the N-word. She said the quote used seemed to be having the effect of emboldening other students to express racist views.
“I decided I’m going to go up there and see what’s going on,” McReynolds said. “I don’t want my daughter to come home crying. It’s school. You’re supposed to be here to learn.”
Hardy said student newspapers “always test the boundaries. That’s what they do.”
He said school administrators do not read The Pylon in advance. The Kansas Student Publications Act prohibits school officials from suppressing material solely because it involves political or controversial subject matter.
He said he is hopeful the article will open up a productive dialogue that perhaps needed to take place, and that it will provide an opportunity for improved relationships among students.
“Sometimes the most painful experiences are the best opportunities,” he said. “This could be an opportunity for us to really talk about what’s important, to clarify how we truly feel, that there’s no doubt in our being that that kind of behavior and that kind of disrespect is not acceptable in our school.”
“It hurts me whenever our kids get hurt,” Hardy said. “I want them to come to school and love it. I want them to look forward to coming to school every day because there are people who love them and care about them and their future’s bright.”
He said the offensive quote does not reflect the school or the student body as a whole.
“We want all of our students to come to school every day and feel welcome,” he said.
Lowell Moore, political action chairman of the Salina NAACP, said he and four other Salina residents and concerned parents met with Showman on Monday morning.
Moore said the meeting was “very productive,” and Showman assured the group school officials would be proactive in addressing the issue with students and would follow up on any concerns expressed.
Moore said he expects positive results, and he hopes it can start a conversation that will lead to better understanding.
“There’s something there that can be more understood if the community will open up and just talk — especially at that level with the kids,” Moore said.
He said NAACP representatives have discussed issues of race at open forums in the past, but there never has been an event planned that targeted younger people.
“We should try to better understand the situation,” he said. “I don’t have all the answers, but I think together we can find a way.”
Moore said addressing the problem of racism with students has the potential to improve the future.
“There are no bad kids,” he said. “Kids are all born good. They learn these things. Bad parenting is our problem, but it doesn’t have to come from the parents. With social media, it all trickles down. The tone from leaders from the top down is contagious.”