Niles school determines skit was not intentional act of racism

Published 10:08 am Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Officials at Niles Community Schools have determined that a student skit portraying the Ku Klux Klan at Niles High School was not a deliberate act of racism, “but rather a case of poor judgment,” according to a media statement on behalf of Superintendent Dan Applegate distributed Tuesday.

The investigation followed a student project in an American history class late last month in which students were asked to depict an issue in America’s history. A group of students chose to address the issue of racism and brought props and costumes portraying the Ku Klux Klan.

The district released an apology to the community April 1, which expressed the school system’s intolerance for the incident and promised that the situation would be thoroughly investigated.

After wrapping up the investigation, the district distributed the following statement:

“Niles Community Schools has completed a thorough investigation into the matter involving the recent student skit. We have determined that this was not a deliberate act of racism, nor was it an act promoting racism, but rather a case of poor judgment.

“By law, we cannot discuss disciplinary action that was taken. However, we can tell you that the teacher will be returning to the classroom shortly. Niles Community Schools remains committed to exploring controversial topics within its classrooms, but such exploration must be done with respect to the policies already in place and with parents informed in advance so they may determine the level of their child’s participation. We have reinforced this policy with our teachers and all staff members to ensure it is followed moving forward.”

According to the district handbook, when discussion on a controversial topic — such as the Ku Klux Klan — is planned, parents must be notified in advance.

“If after careful review of the program lessons and/or materials, a parent indicates to the school that either content or activities conflicts with his/her religious beliefs or value system, the school will honor a written request for his/her child to be excused from particular classes for specified reasons,” according to Policy 2240, as published in the district handbook.

Applegate acknowledged that these steps were not taken, so parents were not given the opportunity to excuse their students from the skit.

The policy states that discussion of controversial issues may be initiated by the students as long as they are not “substantially disruptive to the classroom setting.” Additionally, when controversial issues have not been specified in the course of study, the topic must be approved by the principal.

After the skit was performed, Applegate said the district focused on ensuring students who witnessed the project were processing the information they obtained. Applegate was joined by Pastor Bryant Bacon, of Mount Calvary Baptist Church, and Nancy Studebaker, director of the Niles District Library, in facilitating a discussion about how to have conversations on controversial topics.

The administration has also reminded all educators of this policy and will continue to enforce it moving forward.