African American parents in the West Jefferson Hills School District are enraged after a Thomas Jefferson High School student allegedly made a racist social media post about a fellow student that circulated widely Tuesday.
The photo is of an African American student appearing to be sitting in a school science lab with a caption including racist language and a threat to hang the boy by a tree.
“I am very disturbed. I am angry, and I’m concerned for the African American students that reside in this district,” Taiona Davis, of Jefferson Hills, a mother of two West Jefferson Hills students told school board members Tuesday night. She was sent messages about the post from people in other states, she said.
The West Jefferson Hills School District said in a statement it is “aware of an inappropriate, offensive social media post regarding one of our high school students.”
Parents of the student who allegedly made the post and those of the subject were notified, and the district is working with local law enforcement on the issue, the district said.
“This incident is not reflective of our core values, and we have taken the appropriate actions according to our discipline policy,” the statement reads.
Superintendent Michael Ghilani referred to the statement when asked for comment.
After Tuesday’s school board meeting, Ghilani and several top administrators and school board members held a private meeting with Davis and fellow parent Hillary Williams, also of Jefferson Hills, who has five children attending Thomas Jefferson High School, to discuss their concerns about race issues in the district. Some of their children also attended the meeting.
Neither parent knew the boy in the photo.
“They discussed new curriculum that’s going to take place, the inclusion of minority children in their curriculum and how they were basically going to teach children and implement change for African American children in the district,” Davis said.
District leaders told the parents they’re going to hold staff meetings and “start from the top and work their way down,” Williams said. Administrators also told the parents they plan to hold diversity training and support a multicultural club Williams’ son is starting, she said.
The parents say this is not the first incident of racism they have had had to deal with. They say racist comments have been made to their children in school.
“We’ve been coaching our children on how to survive,” Williams said.
Last year in an English class, a teacher distributed a handout explaining what a racial slur meant, Williams said.
“In the explanation, it said a black person,” Williams said. “My children had to sit there day after day after day, and the students started feeling comfortable saying the word and using it more often.”
The district has since removed the handout from the curriculum, she said. District officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the handout Wednesday morning.
Each time something comes up, Williams meets with district leaders to push for change, calling herself her children’s “No. 1 advocate.”
“It doesn’t just happen to go away overnight,” Williams said. “But, as long as we’re working toward a goal to assist these students to be able to come here and do what they come here to do — and that’s to get their education, and there should be no interruptions to that.”
Davis said she feels African American students don’t have a voice and there’s a lack of inclusion overall.
In 2017-18, Thomas Jefferson High School was 93.2 percent white and 1.6 percent African American, according to the Future Ready PA Index.
“I’m angry, and if I need to come here and sit at a desk while my child attends school here, that’s what I will do,” Davis said. Her main concern, she said, is the safety of her children.
Now that this most recent incident has come to light, Davis said, people are going to be watching.
“I believe they’re going to have to (make changes) because now you have the world looking at you,” she said.
But parents are not going to be satisfied until they see changes occur with the students, Williams said.