(UPDATE) City Schools of Decatur investigating after videos surface of students using racist languageDecatur High School, City Schools of Decatur, N McDonough Street.
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/
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.
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.
Rochelle Lofstrand and Wes Hatfield