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Racism in local schools: Parents discuss how racism in schools can affect students

Olathe Public Schools
Posted at 9:51 PM, Sep 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-27 22:51:43-04

OLATHE, Kan. — Last Friday, the Olathe School District notified parents of a racist homecoming proposal.

After a weekend of reaction, KSHB 41 News spoke with parents of students in the district. Those parents say racism is impacting their students' ability to learn and leading to serious conversations.

“I was furious because we have Black kids attending these schools and no one wants to feel like they have to avoid certain kids,” Toriana Walker, a concerned parent with a child attending school in the Olathe School District, said Monday.

Walker's reaction was after seeing the now-viral photo of two students holding a racist homecoming sign that reads “If I was Black I would be picking cotton but I’m white so I’m picking you for HOCO."

Walker says this is not the first such incident within the Olathe School District. She says that after speaking with school officials in the past, she pulled her daughter out of Olathe South High School due to racism, among other reasons.

“She would avoid certain hallways because she would notice certain kids spewing our racial slurs and using the N-word,” Walker said. “Some of the kids in that group didn’t want to work with her so it was a matter of trying to find a few of her friends, a lot of them didn’t go there, so it was hard for her to collaborate with the group she was in because they felt like, 'I didn’t want to work with you or you shouldn’t be here.'”

Walker told KSHB 41 News her daughter felt isolated due to experiencing racism while attending a computer science program at Olathe South.

“It made her feel like she could not fit in," Walker said. "She was in a learning program there and she couldn’t really get engaged or get involved or even work with other peers or other students when they are working on projects because they already feel like she doesn’t belong."

Alisha Johnson posted the now-viral photo of the poster on Facebook.

She says she's shocked at how much attention the post has received.

“It went far beyond what I was expecting, but now is a great time to have those courageous conversations to get to know each other in different ways to understand why these things are wrong,” Johnson who has a niece and nephew at Olathe South, said Monday.

Since the post went viral Friday, Johnson says her niece and nephew have grown uncomfortable at the school.

“It’s hard to decipher between who has their back and who doesn’t; who’s with them and who is," Johnson said. "It’s a very uncomfortable situation."

KSHB 41 News reached out to the Olathe School District Monday seeking an on-camera follow-up interview to a statement the district released Friday. The district said no one was available and passed along an additional statement.

“The district and school are working through the investigation process and are currently interviewing all students and families involved to provide due process. However, it is important to note that the behavior exhibited in this situation is unacceptable. Our department of diversity and engagement is working to support our students and staff during this challenging time and help us address real concerns in a timely fashion,” Olathe Public Schools spokesperson Maggie Kolb said in a statement Monday.

The district released a public statement and sent a letter to parents about the incident on Friday.

Walker says that, as a parent who has seen the impacts racism in school has on a child, she is asking the Olathe School District to take serious action and improve the quality of learning for all students.

“They need to feel like they can go to school, learn, and be okay," Walker said. "They don’t need to be sitting at certain tables in the lunch room or avoiding hallways or not speaking to that person because they really are racist. That’s not okay."