After a pair of racially charged incidents last week – one in school and one at a local barber shop at a busy intersection – Blue Springs South High School wanted to put to rest any claim the school is avoiding race issues or taking them lightly.
Wednesday's closed press conference at South was scheduled after a community meeting the night before featured discussion about racial slurs painted on the barber shop and the same slur found scrawled on a student's assignment in a physics lab drawer. Principal Charles Belt and a pair of student leaders aimed to assure that the school takes race and culture issues seriously and will continue to do so.
“We at Blue Springs South, the Blue Springs School District, and I believe our community, but I'll speak specifically for South, does not tolerate inappropriate student behavior,” said Belt, who has been with the school for 22 years overall. “It's offensive, disappointing for anyone to suggest otherwise.
“One comment, one insensitive comment, one slur, one racist issue is one too many.”
Belt said he and other administrators have spent more than 90 hours investigating the racial slur on the paper thus far, and “disciplinary consequences have been applied,” though he declined to specify for privacy reasons.
The principal acknowledged that in a school of 1,500 students, they will make mistakes.
“They're high school kids – 16 to 18 years old. And when they do, it's our job as teachers, as educators, as adults, as coaches, as principals, to teach, to turn those mistakes into learning opportunities.
“It's abhorrent that someone would think that,” he said of taking race issues lightly.
Belt was joined by junior Carlos Velasquez, president-elect of the Student Senate, and senior Isaiah Jackson, president of the recently formed Jags United club that was created to promote diversity and inclusion through education and awareness about different cultures and races.
Jackson said racial intolerance happens many times out of “pure ignorance” and that people don't realize how little comments can hurt when multiplied over time.
An example would be what he's occasionally heard some students refer to as “Africa.” It's an area in the halls where some black students congregate briefly during time between classes. It's a reference that likely pre-dates Jackson's days in high school, and Jackson said it's not an intentionally organized group, and certainly not a segregated one. Simply put, it's people socializing with other people like them.
“It's grown into something that we knew we had to stop,” Jackson said, referring to the comments – not the group.
“Breaking it up would be the wrong thing to do,” Belt said. “Those kids will be the change, and we'll continue to educate kids and staff members.”
Jackson agreed that change can be best encouraged within the student body as they attempt to reverse what might have been assimilated on the home front.
“We're going to have to be students addressing students,” Jackson said. “This is something that spreads throughout the home. It starts from everyday life.”
“These subtle issues are something students need to be empowered and inspired to deal with,” Velasquez added. “I feel empowered, and I want to be part of the movement to end it.
“I've noticed it more outside of school; we still have work to do.”
Jackson said many South students signed banners and signs to present to the Turn-N-Headz barber shop at the intersection of Missouri 7 and U.S. 40 that was victimized.
Blue Springs released surveillance video footage Wednesday, asking for public assistance to identify a person of interest, a blurry figure seen walking and then running in front of a store.
Mayor Carson Ross said “someone out there knows something” about the barber shop incident and called on such a person to step forward.
“This manifestation of racial hatred is a cowardly act,” Ross said in a statement posted on the city website. “Although it has been rare in the 43 years my family has lived in Blue Springs, no community is exempt from ill-willed people doing unacceptable things. It is not welcome in Blue Springs, and we will meet it head on.”