Overall, the complaints mark the tip of a very large iceberg of deeply rooted and on-going racism in Minnesota schools.
By Elizabeth Shockman
First came the n-word on a weekly, sometimes daily basis, directed at eighth-grader Ameera Ally and other John Metcalf Middle School students of color.
Then came the racist “jokes” in the hallways about picking cotton. Then someone posted a makeshift sign at a water fountain reading, “for whites only.”
When Ameera confronted her fellow students about the racist taunting, she said, they would shrug it off, saying, “Well, if the principal can say it, why can’t I?”
This was the climate at Metcalf this spring. In December, after video surfaced of principal Shannon McParland repeating a student’s use of the epithet at school, what had been a fragile social fabric at Metcalf unraveled, Ameera and other students, parents and staff told MPR News.
The video captured McParland saying, “Seriously, you’re gonna call me a f–-ing n–-er?” McParland later said she was recounting an incident earlier in the day when a student had directed the slur at her, telling the principal to “stop f–-ing with me.” In an email to staff, McParland said the nine-second clip came from a 48-minute video taken by a student.
McParland apologized after the clip went public.
“Even repeating the words was inappropriate and hurtful and I apologize for my actions,” she wrote in an email to families.
“Words have power, and few words have a more hateful and destructive history,” she added. “I sincerely apologize to the students, parents, staff and community members for the pain my words have caused.”
The turmoil, according to 19 students, parents and staff interviewed by MPR News, had only begun.
They described a poisoned culture, enabled by school leaders, where victims of racist incidents felt punished or threatened for speaking up, and their concerns were dismissed.
Black girls who tried to form their own student union in the wake of McParland’s repetition of the slur said they were labeled as aggressive troublemakers. Teachers who defended them said they received reprimands and poor performance reviews.
While racial tensions simmer at many schools in Minnesota and the nation, what happened last school year at Metcalf shocked some enough to seek outside help.
It hasn’t been pleasant. I guess this year really opened my eyes. I told myself a few months ago that after this year I won’t be a teacher based on what I have witnessed,” Laura Ngeh, one of only two African-American staffers at Metcalf this past school year, told MPR News in May.
Ngeh said students called her the n-word regularly at school and she saw it directed at students of color. But she didn’t see school leaders do anything more serious than lecture the offending students or on one or two occasions, give them in-school suspension. She said she asked a school district supervisor to investigate but never heard anything more about it. …