OLATHE, Kan. -- At least one Olathe Northwest High School LBGT student stayed home Friday and a dozen more said they're scared after kids threw candy and jeers at members of their community in Thursday's homecoming parade.
The district said it took immediate action, sent an email out to the community, and will continue investigating next week. But one student told Fox 4 she and her friends worry about feeling safe at school.
She asked us not to give her name or show her face because she said it's been "tense" following what she called aggressive heckling. She said of Thursday's Raven homecoming parade, "We were expecting to have fun and just walk around and show our pride."
The girl is a member of the GSA Club at Olathe Northwest -- the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. The club walked as a group in the parade, going by the neighboring elementary and middle schools, where she the student said they felt nothing but positivity and support.
She and parents said when they got back toward their school, that's when some of their classmates started aggressively shouting slurs at them, throwing candy at their faces, and yelling the phrases, "Make Olathe Northwest Straight Again" and telling the students to kill themselves.
The girl said, "People were throwing things at us, and I did hear a few words shouted at us kind of along of the lines of 'Make America Straight Again.'"
Some of the GSA students said the kids yelling at them wore Make America Great Again hats, but Thursday was "USA day" as each day of the week had a different theme leading up to homecoming, encouraging kids to wear different attire each day of the week."
Witnesses said it lasted a couple blocks and some students were crying after the parade. Some kids took to social media and parents reacted as well.
Missy, an Olathe Northwest mom, said she watched her daughter filled with excitement in the week's leading up to the parade, even draping out rainbow flags around the house to get out the wrinkles. When she got home from school, she asked her daughter how it went and she said, "'Mom, it was awful. They were saying awful, ugly things and calling us names.'"
Missy also said, "I’m embarrassed because this is where I grew up. This isn’t who we are, come on. Where is this coming from? Why? Why do we have to hate each other? I don’t get it."
The district said the parade was supervised with school staff but that no teachers saw this directly. Assistant Superintendent Erin Dugan, Ph.D., said, "We didn’t see it, if we’d seen it, we would’ve stopped it immediately. Kids do a nice job of doing things when the adults aren’t watching. They know our expectations."
Dugan said she spent time at Olathe Northwest Friday morning and described the climate as welcoming. She said, "Lots of students are coming forward to say, 'Hey I heard something too,' or, 'Hey this doesn’t feel good.' Actually the majority of our students are coming forward to say, 'Hey what can I do to support, this isn’t who we are."' She also said it'll take a group effort: "We’ve got some education to do as a community in general."
The district said the principal sent out an email Thursday, investigated Friday, and will continue investigating next week. Missy said an email isn't enough. "It’s nice that they said we’re concerned, and we got an email. Well, so what. These kids had to get up the next day and go to school. That takes a lot of guts."
Below is the email sent home to parents Thursday:
Dear ONW parents, students and staff:
We were provided information late this afternoon that inappropriate student conduct occurred during our Homecoming parade today. We are taking this information very seriously and have immediately started an investigation. Please allow myself and our administrative team time to do our due diligence and conduct a full and comprehensive investigation. Olathe Northwest High School does not and will not accept any conduct that is disparaging or harassing to our students, staff or community. The safety and security of our students and staff is a top priority.
The student who spoke with FOX 4 said, "Before I thought my school was a safe place for me to be, and now I’m just kind of scared, and I’m wondering if I should even speak out."
Parents said no one sought medical attention after the parade, but they're emotionally hurt and afraid, and one student stayed home from school. Many are also seeking comfort and support from a group called QSpace -- a group founded by Olathe Northwest mom Cassandra Peters. Peters said she heard from eight different students after Thursday's parade, and they all felt attacked and worried.
Peters said, "Even if you are not gay, you are not transgender, you don’t have to agree, you don’t have to like them, but you have to be kind and respectful to them. All of those comments that they made, throwing things; they were scared."
She continued, "You’re not saying I don’t like your dress. You’re saying I don’t like your existence. That is fear that they’ve instilled in them that lasts way long than when they change their clothes."
Olathe Northwest celebrates its homecoming this weekend.
Below is the email sent out Friday afternoon:
Dear Olathe Northwest parents, students and staff,
I wanted to follow up with you about the incident at the Homecoming parade. As I shared in my message yesterday evening, we continued a full and comprehensive investigation today. Our administrative team conducted a number of student interviews and spoke with staff members to identify and act on the student behavior; we will continue this on Monday. Additionally, we are working to make sure all of our students feel safe, welcomed, and accepted at Olathe Northwest.
This morning the following announcement was made to our students. It reiterated the message that hateful behavior toward any student or group of students was unacceptable. Kindness, compassion and acceptance should be practiced every day in our hallways and classrooms. Students were reminded to contact a trusted adult or administrator to report concerns.
Students and staff,
Yesterday we had some of our own students targeting one of our groups marching in the parade.
Our own students being hateful to other Ravens.
This is unacceptable.
Hateful comments directed toward any student or group of students have no place at ONW.
ONW has worked hard to be a safe and caring school where every student can flourish and have a positive experience.
Every student deserves to feel comfortable and safe at school and this is the collective responsibility of every person who walks through our doors.
We must practice kindness, compassion and acceptance every day in our classrooms, hallways, campus and community.
THAT is who we are as RAVENS. Not what occurred yesterday during the parade.
When you witness or are a target of any behavior that is hateful or makes you feel unsafe, we need you need to contact a trusted teacher or administrator to report immediately.
If you have any information on this, it is our expectation and your responsibility to come forward and confidentially talk with an administrator or a trusted adult in our school today.
If you are not feeling safe at school for any reason, please find a teacher, counselor or administrator and we will all work together to support you in any way needed.
I want to reassure you that we are taking this situation very seriously and that derogatory language and action is absolutely not acceptable. While we continue the investigation, our focus will be to make sure all of our students feel safe. But we need your help. We need our entire community to wrap its arms around our school, and to model kind and compassionate behavior. We must continue to educate and lead. We will work to develop our plan to not only model but to teach our students about to be kind and compassionate, to be accepting and how to have difficult conversations and handle them well. We would love for that conversation to be continued at home as well.
We are Ravens. It’s our continued commitment to treat each other with the respect and kindness. We continue to work diligently to address behavior that does not reflect our school’s or community’s values. We will continue to make sure that lines of communication are open.