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(UPDATE) City Schools of Decatur investigating after videos surface of students using racist language

Decatur

(UPDATE) City Schools of Decatur investigating after videos surface of students using racist language

Decatur High School, City Schools of Decatur, 310 N. McDonough Street.
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Decatur, GA – City Schools of Decatur is investigating after videos of Decatur High students using racist language began circulating online.

One video shared with Decaturish shows a white female student lip-syncing to the song “Act Up” by the City Girls. The lyrics prominently feature the n-word. Following the publication of this story, Decaurish received another video showing different a white female student using the same epithet twice and making an obscene gesture at the camera.

In a message to parents, Superintendent David Dude said, “Upon learning of the incidents, DHS administrators immediately opened an investigation, and they are developing a corrective action plan using the tools available to them under our Student Code of Conduct and Restorative Practices Handbook (CCRPH).

“On Wednesday afternoon, April 28, the DHS administrative team, DHS’s lead counselor, members of district leadership, and other staff members met virtually with over 150 students to discuss the disruptive impact of these videos on our school community. Our students expressed understandable disappointment, frustration, and outrage,” Dude’s message says. “They also suggested ways DHS can become a more culturally inclusive learning community. I appreciated hearing these students and identified strongly with how they felt.”

Here is Dude’s full message to the community:

Dear CSD Community,

This weekend, painful and inappropriate videos surfaced of Decatur High School students using racist language. Such conduct is completely unacceptable and does not reflect the values of our school district or the behavioral expectations we hold for our students. Upon learning of the incidents, DHS administrators immediately opened an investigation, and they are developing a corrective action plan using the tools available to them under our Student Code of Conduct and Restorative Practices Handbook (CCRPH).

On Wednesday afternoon, April 28, the DHS administrative team, DHS’s lead counselor, members of district leadership, and other staff members met virtually with over 150 students to discuss the disruptive impact of these videos on our school community. Our students expressed understandable disappointment, frustration, and outrage. They also suggested ways DHS can become a more culturally inclusive learning community. I appreciated hearing these students and identified strongly with how they felt.

Some have questioned why the school district would even be involved in addressing conduct exhibited in a video that was not created or disseminated on school property, at a school activity, or using school technology. The short answer is that state code (O.C.G.A. §20-2-751.5) requires schools to include in their codes of conduct provisions that “address any off-campus behavior . . . which disrupts the educational process.” The longer answer, however, addresses the kind of school climate and student character we are working to develop in City Schools of Decatur. We strive to build students who are “internationally minded people who recognize their common humanity and shared guardianship of the planet, to help create a better and more peaceful world” (Board Policy 1.4.A). The actions and language demonstrated in these videos have significantly disrupted the educational process and are in no way demonstrative of the expectations we hold for CSD students.

We are guided by the phrase “Decatur Creates Leaders.” We use the acronym “CREATES” to further describe the kind of students we develop and matriculate from our schools. Within this acronym are several statements that further explain our hopes and expectations for our students and how our students will present themselves to the world. (Portions of each term that are specifically relevant to this situation are italicized below.)

CARING: We show empathy, compassion, and respect so that we all feel physically and emotionally safe. We care. 

REFLECTIVE: We honor our need to stop and think, make connections, and use our strengths to grow as a learner and person. 

ENGAGED: We learn with enthusiasm and sustain our love of learning through perseverance, collaboration, and craftsmanship. 

ALTRUISTIC: We do good things for others to help make the world a just and better place. 

THOUGHTFUL: We pause to think critically and creatively to make sense of the world and respond positively in learning situations and interactions. 

EXCEPTIONAL: We approach each day with an attitude of excellence balancing our responsibility to self and others. 

SCHOLARS: We collaborate locally and globally to discover and engage in learning that is personal, meaningful, and authentic. 

We take equity and equity-related issues seriously. For several years, City Schools of Decatur staff and students have undertaken the challenging but important work of addressing racial inequality, and the school district has heavily invested in this work. We have developed a District Equity Action Plan, have done in-depth equity work with teachers, formed the initial cohort of our Students Organized for Anti-Racism (SOAR) initiative at DHS, our school and district leaders have participated in extensive equity training under the Leadership for Racial Equity Development program, and our cabinet and school board leaders have participated in multiple opportunities to work on the development of their personal understandings of equity. Each of our schools and the Wilson Center has an Equity Team, and we have established a quick and easy process for concerned parties to submit equity ideas and/or concerns directly to our Equity Director at https://www.csdecatur.net/Page/4100.

It is at times and in situations like the present, when equity work gets painful and difficult, that it becomes most important for us to reflect upon the things we have deemed necessary for all our students to feel safe, seen, and successful. Some of these things are easy and enjoyable, others are difficult and challenging, and it is at such a time that our adherence to our stated values and expectations is the most important. Thus, it is within the CSD framework of restoration, education, equity, and consequences that the behavior exhibited in these videos will be addressed. While we cannot and will not share specific actions used to address specific students due to student privacy rights, I would like to assure our community that I take this situation very seriously and will ensure it is addressed accordingly.

This incident reminds us that we have more equity work to do as a community. City Schools of Decatur is deeply committed to engaging in this work in a thoughtful and focused way. The 150 students who compellingly communicated their perspectives regarding this issue are a prime example of how CSD can and will tackle the challenge of eliminating racial inequity in our programs and practices.

Sincerely,

David Dude

Superintendent

Decatur High Principal Rochelle Lofstrand and Assistant Principal Wes Hatfield also addressed the videos in a message to parents.

“While we were shocked and saddened by these videos, we know that such language is used all too often in Decatur, as it is across the state and country,” their message said. “Our community must continue the urgent work of building cross-racial understanding and empathy.”

Here is their full message to parents following the discovery of the videos:

Dear DHS community,

This weekend, many of you saw videos circulating on social media featuring DHS students using racist and vulgar language.  We were made aware of these videos on Sunday by a number of students and community members.  We would like to thank these individuals, especially these students, for sharing these videos with us and for sharing how they were hurt, angry, and upset by them.  The language used in these videos and in the captions that have been shared are unacceptable in any circumstance and context.  According to the CSD Code of Conduct and Restorative Practices Handbook, material posted in electronic formats and shared on social media is subject to school discipline if materials were created and/or shared on campus and/or constitute cyberbullying.  Due to the nature of these videos, DHS administration is continuing an investigation into their creation and distribution.  As with all student disciplinary investigations, we are bound by student privacy policies when sharing outcomes.  We will assign consequences where we find that rules have been broken.

An important part of our response as a school to any racist or hateful actions that occur in our community is to offer students space to express their anger and hurt and to work to repair harm done.  We know that many students have been harmed by these videos.  Our counselors, student support staff, and administration will work to help our students take steps toward processing and healing.

While we were shocked and saddened by these videos, we know that such language is used all too often in Decatur, as it is across the state and country.  Our community must continue the urgent work of building cross-racial understanding and empathy.

If you have any questions or any thoughts and ideas to express please reach out to our Equity and Student Support department using this link.

Thank you,

Rochelle Lofstrand and Wes Hatfield

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14 Comments

  1. RayLipSinkists Apr 29, 2020

    Wait..Lip syncing?
    Hahaha

    But that track is drty tho’.

  2. WakeUp Apr 30, 2020

    I saw a third video that was equally appalling.
    White male student, hand clapped over his mouth, shouting the word while laughing hysterically. Not so funny now eh buddy?

  3. OakhusrtRez Apr 30, 2020

    Let me get this straight. Someone sent City School of Decatur and Decaturish a video of a private citizen using insensitive language, lip syncing a song, and because somehow this citizen was identified as a CSD student, Mr. Dude and his administration decided to initiate an investigation? What authority does he have for this? Unless this footage was taken on school property, they have NO right to invade the privacy of these kids. Let me be clear, the language these kids used is vulgar and unfortunate and I don’t condone it one bit. In fact, if this person had said this in my vicinity, I would have said something myself, but we don’t live in a communist state. Regardless of the violation of privacy and undue stress this attention will cause these kids (they will branded racists), why does it even matter they are white? Would this even be an issue if they were not white? If your striving for equality then it should never matter who uses the language. The song is repulsive, just read the lyrics, but our current pop culture society has voted it Best Hip Hop Single of the Year (2018). It reached Top 40 on the US Billboard Hot 100.What does that say about our society and our collective morality? Who is to really to blame here people. I would be willing to bet some of the accusers listen to this artist and have played this song too. It is the role of the parents to correct their kids when they make mistakes or use poor judgement, and I am concerned about CSD policies and how it inserts itself in the private lives of individuals.

    1. Dan Whisenhunt Apr 30, 2020

      There was also at least one other video, as described in the story. I am pretty sure the investigation began well before I wrote about it.

    2. Jmac83 May 1, 2020

      If you read the article carefully, Dude says the school handbook allows discipline if electronic materials “were created and/or shared on campus.” So, while I share your trepidation about school officials pushing their jurisdiction outside school grounds, it appears Dude is aware of his restrictions.

  4. PopKultureRules Apr 30, 2020

    So… one female student made the mistake of lip-syncing a popular song, and another female student “use the same epithet twice” and flipped off a camera? Now the town posse is after them? Man, i needed a good laugh! Thanks

  5. 7.62 x 39 May 1, 2020

    I am very concerned about the short and long term effects on these kids. There is no question they showed extremely poor judgement and I am in no way condoning their behavior.

    BUT…at a minimum, even if they are not expelled, it will not be possible to return to their school. The environment will be extremely hostile to them, and they will be forced to seek alternatives to complete their education. If they attend another school, the story will follow, and chances are high that environment will also be poisoned.

    At some point, their names will (if they haven’t already been) be attached to the videos. And a simple Google search by a future college, employer, love interest, etc. will pull it up. Ten, twenty, thirty years from now, they will be crippled by one poor decision made during their teen years.

    As I said, this was a huge mistake. But we all make mistakes (especially as teens). We pre-Internet/camera phone people had the opportunity to learn from the mistakes, find humility, and continue our lives. These kids will not be able to do that, and it worries me.

    1. Matthew Hogben May 1, 2020

      They actually will have the opportunity to learn from their mistakes and find humility. That’s perfectly clear in Dr Dude’s communications, along with specific authorities in the GA Code for getting involved. Restorative justice isn’t especially easy for the perpetrators (whose identities seem to be fairly widespread), but it has the right goal: make the victim whole. And that should be the first thing anyone worries about.

      There is a detailed post from Curtis Rhodes on Nextdoor with some detailed, thoughtful, and nuanced responses mixed in with the apologists. Worth reading IMO.

  6. T.Tes May 1, 2020

    I made sure that when I first approached Decaturish about an incident involving a teacher of color, I provided a separate update to the AJC’s education desk for good measure. The focus was on the actions and reactions by some parents/students towards that teacher of color. I am not the only parent who has spoken up about our experiences/observations in Decatur and I am so pleased the AJC included our community in their coverage of concerning school cultures and racially charged behavior. When students exhibit this kind of behavior, it follows that the home life and attitudes of parents have an impact. Transparency in the media is a wonderful thing. When stories like this surface, just know that there may be multiple conversations and multiple data points preceding these publications. There’s much to see below the water line.

    These problems will not be solved with retaliation neither will they be solved by only entertaining the opinions of certain influencers who dilute their feedback for political gain. Some of us are willing to scorch the earth until the right people are at the table, the full story is told, and there are discernible consequences for the bad actors across all populations–no parent, no teacher, no student, and no administrator is untouchable.

  7. Crazy Bob May 4, 2020

    I think the City Schools of Decatur has made it clear to the students….”Don’t step out of line or we will destroy you”…..OVER A WORD. You know, I’m not the crazy one here. The crazy ones are the administration and the school board for using irresponsible actions to ruin a young person’s life. The City Schools of Decatur has a reputation of being an outstanding school system that many move to Decatur for. This is a blemish on that reputation and may make a lot of families think twice now about whether they want their children to be brainwashed by a system they should be able to trust.

    1. Jmac83 May 4, 2020

      How is the school system destroying anyone? No action has been taken. If the perps weren’t stupid enough to create or share the videos while on school campus, then it seems like they are out of CSD’s reach. Unless your argument is, the school system shouldn’t look into potential on-campus harassment?

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