Education

Parents share concerns over racial tensions in Clovis schools

Nearly 200 members of the community showed up for the Clovis High area community meeting on Thursday, Oct. 5, to discuss how Clovis Unified School District will handle the concerns of parents after racially demeaning messages were exchanged by students in the district.
Nearly 200 members of the community showed up for the Clovis High area community meeting on Thursday, Oct. 5, to discuss how Clovis Unified School District will handle the concerns of parents after racially demeaning messages were exchanged by students in the district. jjohnson@fresnobee.com

Nearly 200 people gathered at Clovis High School Thursday night to share concerns about racial tensions in Clovis schools after students’ derogatory Snapchat messages about slaves and African Americans were made public.

“We have been extremely saddened” about the messages, Clovis Unified Assistant Superintendent Sylvia Borges told the gathering in the school cafeteria. She said she knew the situation became personal when district employees met with African American students to discuss the messages and saw the looks on their faces.

“This has to be systemic. It can’t be a reaction,” Borges said of the district’s role in stopping hate.

The messages came to the public’s attention last Friday when a girl tweeted out screenshots that showed a conversation on Snapchat discussing “slaves.” The users in one post referred to black people by using the N-word and suggest they “jet on over to Africa and smuggle a new one over.” In a second screenshot of the Snapchat conversation, the users appear to discuss the size and strength of black Americans. “Let’s race our slaves,” reads one message.

The Clovis Unified student who revealed racially demeaning messages posted by fellow students visited The Fresno Bee on Tuesday, Oct. 3, to talk about her story. She was joined by her father.

Borges said racial tensions have been heightened due to the nation’s political climate, and the messages could have been a result.

After Borges’ address, participants broke up into smaller groups to discuss their concerns.

In one small group, Ramona Straughter said her daughter, who she described as biracial and who currently attends Clovis High, has been experiencing racism since attending Jefferson Elementary School. She said the issue of racism in the district is nothing new.

An audience member later reiterated to the whole room what Straughter said to her small group, that racism has been around for years in the district and the political climate is being used as a scapegoat to make up for the district’s shortcomings in dealing with racism and violence. The room broke into applause.

Straughter said when the Snapchat messages were brought up in her daughter’s class, everyone else took it as a joke. Straughter said her daughter, as the only African American student in class, stood up and told them, “this is not a joke to her and what they did was wrong.”

“It shouldn’t take her having to do that,” said Pa Vue, Red Bank Elementary School principal who acted as a group facilitator. “It impacts everybody.”

Straughter said her daughter told her before the messages were exposed that she no longer wanted to finish high school or go to college because of the racism that she’s experienced. But she has since changed her mind after speaking publicly at Clovis High about the messages and how hate won’t be tolerated. She said her daughter now wants to attend college and become a public speaker.

“She wants to make a difference,” Vue replied, smiling.

Tara Wills said her son has sat next to one of the students who took part in the messages in his classes for years. She said they had daily conversations, while her son had no idea what the other student could have been messaging his friends privately.

Wills, originally from Los Angeles, said when she moved to Clovis she heard rumors about the area having racial tensions, but had not experienced a situation like this until now. “It makes me feel a little foolish,” Wills said. She said she feels students, and her son, will feel better knowing that something was done to punish the students.

Wills said she understands privacy rights of all students, however she feels students who were targeted by the messages have had their right to safety taken from them.

“They trampled over my kid’s right to feel safe.” She wants it to be made clear what punishments the students will receive, and that they actually receive them.

Once the groups finished their discussions, a facilitator from each group stood and shared their group’s top two concerns. Concerns included what values are being taught at home, the lack of diversity in curriculum and in administration, issues with the reporting process and a lack of representation of diverse thoughts, beliefs and skin color of administration.

Vue said after working for the district for 20 years, she can recall two training seminars on prejudice and diversity. She said it would be helpful to have seminars more often for employees who interact with students on a daily basis.

Clovis Unified administrators have said they are determined to make sure every student on their campuses feel secure.

Borges said the investigation of the messages is in its final stages. Although she could not comment on specifics, she said none of the students involved are active members in Future Farmers of America, despite some social media comments suggesting that they were.

Barbara Anderson contributed to this report. Jessica Johnson: 559-441-6051, @iamjesslj

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