OLATHE, Kan. — Racial tensions boil in Olathe as protesters gathered outside the public school district’s office Monday evening.
“I just feel as though it was kind of like a slap in the face,” Protest Organizer David Brox said. “Like it was we’re going to give you three days, but we’re not going to deal with the issue, and it felt as though they had a moral obligation to deal with it to avoid tainting their reputation.”
This comes after a Black student at Olathe South High School said his classmates used racial slurs toward him and showed him pictures of lynched Black people for months.
The student, Kirubel Solomon, said he kept quiet until a few weeks ago.
Solomon said the same three students engraved the N-word into a metal piece during their metal working class and gave it to him.
Solomon claims two students were suspended for ten days, the other for three.
He feels like the punishment wasn’t strict enough.
“Half of me was relieved that it was practically over, but half of me was exhausted it happened to me for so long,” Solomon said. “It’s three kids’ words against mine. If I say they’re saying something, what’s the worse they gone do.”
Protesters had a list of demands for the school district, one being to terminate Olathe South Principal, Dale Longenecker.
In response to the protest, Superintendent Dr. Brent Yeager sent a statement on behalf of himself, district leadership and the Department of Culture and Belonging.
“Olathe Public Schools Families and Staff,
“I wanted to reach out on behalf of our district senior leadership team and our Department of Culture and Belonging to speak about racism in our community. As some of you may be aware, last week we had an upsetting incident at Olathe South that involved the use of a racial slur among students.”
“We want to apologize for any hurt that this situation may have caused our students, staff, families and community members. I want to be clear that racism and hate speech are not and will never be acceptable in our school district. We are deeply saddened that this incident and incidents like this continue to happen to our students. As a system, we must create an inclusive environment for ALL students, and the behavior exhibited last week clearly does not meet that standard.”
“We know that this work can only happen one step at a time and would like to take this opportunity to share some of the steps we have taken, while acknowledging that there is still work to be done. As a district, we have implemented several initiatives as part of our comprehensive strategic plan related to diversity and engagement. The Diversity and Engagement Advisory Council (DEAC) was founded in 2020 to provide community and student voice and guidance for our district. As part of the work of the DEAC, multiple staff affinity groups were created and recruitment efforts were established to increase diversity among staff to better reflect the demographics of our students. We worked with an outside company to conduct an Equity Audit, which was reviewed in a special board meeting earlier this year. In addition, each of our secondary schools have various student organizations to create space for students to address issues, impact change, and support each other, while providing an avenue for student voice.”
“Many of our students and families have reached out to inquire about the district’s next steps. Earlier this semester, we began working on updating our Student Code of Conduct to reflect more profound consequences for acts of racism, hate speech and racial slurs. In addition, we will continue to provide education and professional development for our students and staff regarding expectations and repercussions of behavior related to hate speech and racial slurs.”
“Student voice, staff input and collaboration with our families are of paramount importance. All students and families can share their experiences by reporting concerns to a trusted adult in their building. If additional guidance or awareness is needed, we would encourage our community to also utilize our Equity Hotline (913) 780-7995 or firstname.lastname@example.org that routes to our Department of Culture and Belonging. This communication will route directly to our Assistant Director of Culture and Belonging Marquis Harris.”
“Our school system is responsible for part of this work, but this will take intentional efforts by all of us. Please consider talking to your children about not using racial slurs or hate speech and the importance of treating all people with dignity and respect. Please also encourage your children to report anything concerning that they see or hear in our schools. “
“To create community change, it takes all of us coming together to say that hate has no home in Olathe—not in our schools, not in our district and not in our community.”
“They punish harder for weaker things,” said Solomon. “Like they take vaping and other things way more seriously than hate and ignorance.”