PARENT TO POORE: Statement on students' racist social media post falls short. Brian Chilson

Little Rock School District Superintendent Mike Poore released a letter to LRSD parents yesterday about an “inappropriate social media post” by two Little Rock students without describing what made the post inappropriate.

I’ve learned that the post featured a white LRSD high school student in blackface and the caption, “I’m a nigger.”

From Poore’s letter:

The image and language used was offensive and does not represent our values. Over the past 24 hours we’ve tried to investigate this matter thoroughly. We have reviewed our policy and have sought advice from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) to determine any potential disciplinary actions that need to occur. We’ve been provided case law that is *cited below that helps guide our actions on this matter. More importantly, as shared over this entire week through multiple messages, we have an obligation to continue cultural awareness training and professional development, and to seek ways to better provide ongoing support to our students. To that end, we have already begun the work with our LRSD team. We have reached out to our partner, the City of Little Rock, and we have also sought advice and support from Just Communities, an organization that works to ensure that “every person is valued, every voice is heard and that everyone has a fair chance to succeed”. Future planning will need to include our faith-based organizations because we know it will take all of us working together to lift our schools and communities.

Events like we have witnessed this entire week, as well as the social media post by two of our students, don’t just vanish and cannot be ignored. Now is the time to build bridges, to listen and to learn. No matter how challenging and uncomfortable the subject, we must continue educating our children and each other about our shared history. The Little Rock School District reaffirms its commitment to continue efforts to be a model of inclusivity and to ensure that we are a positive reflection of the communities we serve. We will need your help to do that and we will keep you informed as we generate our plans for the 2020-21 school year.

An LRSD parent shared the following open letter to Poore with the Arkansas Times:

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Yesterday, in response to a social media post involving Little Rock School District (LRSD) students, Superintendent Michael Poore released a letter to the “Little Rock School Family.” In that letter, Mr. Poore referenced receiving notice of “…a troubling social media post…” The letter maintains that the post was not threatening or violent, but “extremely offensive and does not align with the values of the LRSD.”

The social media post to which Mr. Poore’s letter refers featured a LRSD student in black face with the caption, “I’m a nigger.” I know because I have seen it. So did my child.

At a time when the black children who comprise 61.3% of the LRSD are watching the lives of black men and women be snuffed out with callous disregard and all but non-existent accountability, it is woefully inadequate for the head of that district to refer to the language of racial violence as “troubling.” Words are no small things. Words beget actions, actions beget habits, habits beget values. Further, the display of blackface, with its history of association with minstrelsy and the systematic mistreatment and dehumanization of black people, demands something beyond a cursory reminder to “talk to children about the responsible use of their social media.” Many of the same children who watched as George Floyd begged for his life, saw the social media post and now watch as Mr. Poore describes as “troubling” language that would, according to the LRSD Student Handbook, qualify as Category One behavior. This, while invoking the idea of family.

Mr. Poore’s letter references plans for “cultural awareness training” for LRSD staff. The administrative response cannot be to require LRSD staff, many of whom are black, to shoulder the burden of fixing other people’s racism. It is incongruous to ask the people traumatized by racism to correct it. That is even more true when the administration will not directly confront the problem by naming it. Cultural awareness training is fine, but in situations such as these for whom is it most necessary?

Children make mistakes; people make mistakes — and there must be space for forgiveness when mistakes happen. But forthrightness and accountability precede forgiveness.

We live in a country that has been largely unwilling to recognize the role racism has played in shaping our collective destiny; that is to all of our detriment. Where there is no honesty, there is no trust; where there is no trust, there can be no learning and any effort to do better — to be better — requires recognizing the history of racist language and acts, calling racism by its name, holding people accountable for their actions, and going beyond performative apologies and statements to teach children. We cannot fix a thing we will not name, and Mr. Poore and LRSD cannot fix that which it is unwilling to face.

Sincerely, A Concerned LRSD Parent