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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

ACLU and parents ask Spokane school district to address racism

A local coalition of parents and the American Civil Liberties Union wants Spokane Public Schools to respond to several complaints of racism and harassment.

Two minority students in Spokane “reported being repeatedly told to ‘go back to Mexico’ or ‘go back to Africa,’ ” according to a letter to school district administrators from the coalition.

In another incident children allegedly told a Latino child “sorry you have to go back,” following President-elect Donald Trump’s victory.

“From what we’ve heard, the district responded to the individual situations, which I think is excellent,” said Vanessa Hernandez, the youth policy director for the ACLU.

However, she thinks the district needs to take more proactive and public action and reiterate that “this is a safe environment, we do not tolerate incidents of bullying or harassment of students.”

Nikki Lockwood, a representative from Spokane Alliance, organized a meeting on Nov. 23 in response to the letter and concerns about harassment and racism in Spokane.

Lockwood said three families whose children were harassed were present at the meeting. Additionally, there were representatives from the Every Student Counts Alliance, the Odyssey Youth Center, the Spokane Education Association, and the school board. School Superintendent Shelley Redinger also attended.

Lockwood said the group asked the district to make a statement reaffirming that it won’t tolerate racism, and will deal with the incidents immediately and work with other local districts in a cohesive effort to make all students feel safe.

She emphasized that it’s not a district-specific problem, but that “this is a community problem.” As an example, she mentioned the racist graffiti spray painted on the side of the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center two weeks ago.

As of Tuesday, Lockwood said the district hadn’t responded to the groups’ requests.

District spokesman Kevin Morrison said the district has policies in place to handle harassment and that they take these situations seriously, although he hesitated to link the alleged harassment to the presidential election.

“Does bullying and harassment happen outside an election?” Morrison said. “Yes.”

And, Morrison doesn’t necessarily think there has been an increase in harassment compared to last year at this time.

“We just remain vigilant,” he said. “We’re required by law to move quickly on these things and we do.”

Fred Schrumpf, the district’s restorative practices director, said often in harassment cases students say things impulsively or out of ignorance.

Although he couldn’t speak specifically about the cases brought forward by the ACLU, he said generally the district hopes to work with the children.

In cases of blatant racism, where the children show no remorse or empathy for those they’ve harassed or attacked, the district will take more drastic action, he said.