Dozens of Ladue high School students participated in a school walkout and march on Wednesday, November 16, responding to racist incidents that took place following the shocking presidential election of Donald Trump on November 8.
On Thursday, November 10, a group of white students were witnessed chanting “Trump, Trump, Trump,” toward black students on a Ladue school bus. One white male took the hazing further and said all black students should “sit in the back of the bus,” according to Tajah Walker, 15, who was targeted in the incident.
Two students were disciplined for their actions. However, Walker said during Wednesday’s protest that one of the students who were disciplined happily bragged about no longer being suspended on Monday because his mother “got him out of it.”
“I literally had a mental breakdown in the middle of the school day yesterday,” Walker told students at Wednesday’s walkout.
However, district spokesperson Susan Downing said both students served the entire disciplinary action. She said that though the district cannot divulge complete details of their discipline, suspension is not the only disciplinary measure the district can and does take.
Also on November 10, a black student, Christian Watson, age 15, was burned by another student at the high school during art class using a hot glue gun – once on the arm, and again on the posterior when the student squirted hot glue on the victim’s seat, “causing serious injury,” according to the district.
Gabriel Vazques, 17, was charged as an adult with third-degree assault, according to Ladue Police.
The victim’s mother, Lynette Ursery, identified the perpetrator on Facebook as “a Caucasian student,” but the district identified him as Hispanic. The police identified the youth as “of Hispanic origin” and noted that he was born in Puerto Rico.
According to the police report, both Vazques and the victim said the attack was not racially motivated and was not accompanied by any abusive language. Vazques said it was not uncommon for students to dab at each other with the hot glue guns. Watson’s best guess as to Vazques’ motive, according to the police report, was that he was trying to be funny.
The incident was not reported to the teacher during class, but the burn was noticed by Watson’s teacher in the next period, who sent him to the nurse.
On Friday morning, November 11, Assistant Principal Beth Rapoff investigated the incident, including speaking with the students involved, a witness and the teacher. She consulted with Principal Brad Griffith to determine the appropriate disciplinary consequences. The district said Ursery met with an administrator and the art teacher about the incident on Friday morning, the later talked to Rapoff by telephone and a referral to law enforcement was discussed. Ursery filed charges on Saturday, November 12.
“This is sickening, what is happening to our children and the response and action the district is taking when it comes to African-American students,” Ursery posted on Facebook. “It saddens me.”
A student, who did not wish to be named, confronted a school official at the November 16 rally and made the same claim.
“I’m only a sophomore, yet I’ve had so many racial issues already,” the student said. “From the two years that I have been here, I’ve already had so many racial issues – and the only time you have done something about it is when you get busted for it.”
Shante Lyons, American history and African-American studies teacher at the high school, counseled the students at the rally.
“We need to be smart, we need to be proactive and we need to put ourselves in a space where we can be most successful, let our voices be heard,” Lyons said. “The people are hearing us. But we need to be focused right now. So what are the steps we can take to put us in the most productive situation possible?”
Downing, the district spokesperson, told The American that the district brought in equity and diversity students to speak with students “to get administrators out of the way and get some real input on what they feel.” She said administrators also were meeting with officials from the NAACP.
Asked if the district was making the connection to the election of Trump and his abusive use of language during the campaign when talking to students and parents, Downing said they feared that making any connection to Trump would only “make it more divisive. We are just making it clear what expectations we have for student character and behavior and what we stand for.”
She said the district has had “a lot of piecemeal things” on diversity and equity and will now pursue a more “concerted effort. But we want to be thoughtful about what that looks like.”