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Disciplinary action taken for students in 'racially insensitive' photo

Disciplinary action taken for students in 'racially insensitive' photo

September 19th, 2017 by Phillip Sitter in Local News

Jefferson City Public Schools (JCPS)

Jefferson City Public Schools confirmed Tuesday that three of the youths posing in a photo circulating on social media that shows "racially insensitive" and other offensive imagery on a car are JCPS students.

JCPS Director of School-Community Relations Amy Berendzen said in a news release the incident did not occur on school grounds nor during a school activity, but "our administration takes these matters serious and are working to address the situation."

Berendzen added "disciplinary measures are being taken."

The language and images drawn into dirt and dust caked on the trunk of the vehicle in the photo include a derogatory racial slur against African-Americans and swastikas. It's not clear whether the youths drew it themselves or found the car that way and posed for the picture.

Either way, the photo has caused concern at Jefferson City High School and in the wider community.

"By law, we cannot measure the disgracefulness or how upsetting and frustrating what is done away from school. What we've got to do is measure the impact on the building and the level of disruption it causes to teaching," JCPS Director of Secondary Education Gary Verslues explained.

JCPS Chief of Learning Brian Shindorf added: "When those things bring disruption to the school setting, we have the ability to address those issues. This (incident) obviously brought issues to the school site, so we have a responsibility, an obligation to address it."

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The 2017-18 JCHS student handbook states the Board of Education's discipline code addresses consequences "for students whose conduct is prejudicial to good order and discipline in the schools or impairs the morale or good conduct of other students," which also applies to "off-campus misconduct and speech that substantially and materially disrupts the educational climate."

Shindorf and Verslues said Jefferson City High School students came to Principal Robert James with concerns about the photo.

Superintendent Larry Linthacum said an incident like this raises the specter of all kinds of effects on the learning environment: the possibility of fights, students afraid to come to school, parents not wanting to send their children to school, trouble controlling classes and issues in parking lots.

No serious issues had arisen as of Tuesday afternoon, to the administrators' knowledge.

"All in all, I was very pleased with how our staff and students are handling the situation," Verslues said.

He and Linthacum encouraged students hurt by the photo to speak with counselors or trusted teachers.

"You don't ignore it. You give students a way to cope with whether it's anxiety or frustration, mad, whatever. Counselors know that better, and they then help the administrators to get teachers key talking points in their classrooms for when the conversations come up," Verslues said.

He noted an email sent to teachers Monday "acknowledged we had a situation, there might be some questions or conversations, and here are the key talking points in how to talk to each of your classes."

"Every elementary school in this city has social skills curriculum, bullying curriculum, that they use in the classroom as part of their instruction to hopefully educate kids on inclusion and what bullying looks like, whether that's about your age, or your sex, your race. And we do that at the elementary level hoping that we educate them well enough that as they get older and get to make their own decisions, and begin making their own decisions outside of us, that they make good decisions," Shindorf said of education efforts that start in kindergarten.

Administrators said they cannot discuss individual students' disciplinary action.

"I feel confident moving forward that it's been addressed," Linthacum said.

Verslues said immediate lessons from this incident are "twofold."

"I think the content of what was in the picture was alarming, very disappointing, and then, the social media aspect is second. Our focus is on the content of that," Verslues said.

Social media sense for students about what's acceptable to share is important, Verslues explained, but it's not everything: It's not just about getting caught.

"I can't emphasize enough that we have to separate things here — the content and then the social media part. The content is more alarming," he said.

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Jefferson City Public Schools confirmed Tuesday that three of the youths posing in a photo circulating on social media that shows "racially insensitive" and other offensive imagery on the trunk of a car are JCPS students.

JCPS Director of School-Community Relations Amy Berendzen said in a news release that the incident did not occur on school grounds nor during a school activity, but "our administration takes these matters serious and are working to address the situation."

Berendzen added that "disciplinary measures are being taken."

"We also recognize that this incident provided a teachable moment relative to the implications of social media. And, like many school districts across the country, we continue our commitment to ongoing discussions about diversity, differences and cultural sensitivity. We will continue to provide and ensure a positive learning environment for all students," she said.