Students suspended after tearing up artwork they claimed was racist

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OSWEGO, Ill -- Students in the far west suburbs were suspended two days for tearing up another student’s class project.  The students, and their parents, say the project was blatantly racist.

The project depicts a burning cross and a member of the Klu Klux Klan. It was prominently displayed in a classroom at Oswego East High School. Students say it had been up for weeks in spite of their complaints.

"It made me feel uncomfortable,” said student Clarissa Williams. “Why would someone display that in their classroom for all these kids to see and not have an explanation for why it was there?"

Finally yesterday, two of them decided it had been up long enough.  They say they'd tried to talk to their teacher but she had no response. So they took the painting down, briefly stashed it in a locker, then tore it up and threw it away.

The students said they felt good about it, too, even after they learned they were being suspended.

It wasn't until then that they were told it was part of another student's project about the Civil Rights Era.

A school spokesman is standing by the suspensions.

A letter was sent to parents Friday which reads:

"An assignment required that students research and develop a creative project with an oral presentation based on several main topics, including: Political and Social Tension; the Republican Era; Technology and Consumer Culture; Early Civil Rights; Women’s Rights; Popular Culture; Entertainment and Media; and Societal Changes. Once the students picked a broad topic, they were asked to choose a specific area of focus within the topic. One of the focus areas under Early Civil Rights was “Violence: KKK, Hiram Wesley Evans, Lynching.”

 A visual depiction of a racially charged time in American history was created by a student as part of a classroom assignment. Students were asked, “What was the Roar” of the “Roaring 20s?” The assignment directed students to complete a creative project depicting what role social and cultural changes played in America during the 1920s.

 Once the students chose a topic and a focus area, they researched, developed, and completed their projects. All of the visual depictions created by the students were later displayed in the classroom except for one student’s depiction of a Ku Klux Klansman (KKK). The student recognized the potentially polarizing impact of the KKK depiction and spoke with the teacher. Together they agreed to not put it on display with the rest of the visual depictions.

Unfortunately, photos of the project were also later misrepresented on social media. We are not able to provide details on how the project was photographed.

We are disappointed that the 1920’s assignment incident has been misrepresented. We will continue to celebrate our diversity. It is the Board of Education’s policy to develop students’ awareness of, and appreciation for, cultural diversity and we will use this as a “teachable moment.”

14 comments

  • Anonymous

    There were more projects displayed. many of the projects were hung on the wall and this one in particular was just over the cabinet as it couldn’t be hung. (I’m in this class)

  • Diane.

    A two day suspension is appropriate but they should not be allowed back in class until they apologize to the student whose artwork they destroyed. These two kids are getting off easy.

  • Grow Up

    That’s arrogent and selfish of them just because someone has a different opinion. Just the hypocrisy of being a democrat.

    • Jenn

      This isn’t about their “opinion”….it was a blatantly racist painting, however, it was selfish of them to not confirm whether or not it was part of a project. And Conservatives can absolutely be against racism…by commenting that democrats are the only party against racism you’re making conservatives look even worse.

  • metafly

    They shouldn’t have torn it up, but it is clear that they haven’t been taught effectively about the civil rights movement in general. Education without context is madness.

  • happy1

    I blame the teacher for not explaining why it was there when they asked. If we (as readers) did not have this photo or ‘explanation’ at the end, this situation could have been interpreted in many different ways by different people. A teacher’s job is to teach and this one clearly failed.

  • Candace

    The teacher should be suspended for not “teaching”. It doesn’t require much common sense or compassion to be able to explain why a blatantly racist piece of art work is displayed in class, especially after students voiced their concern.

    Furthermore, not only was it racist, it depicted an act of violence. I’m sure if this had been a project regarding cop killings or the Holocaust, a rationale would have accompanied the projects.

    Kudos girls!

  • Anonymous

    What’s missing from this story is that the project was part of a novel study using a novel approved by the district. The guidelines were clearly explained and at no point was racism a focus or purpose. Perhaps WGN should have interviewed the artists? The students never approached the teacher about taking the artwork down. The teacher also spoke to the students and the parents. This story is bias and slanderous towards this teacher and the school. Way to report a one sided story WGN. Journalism at its finest.

    • Thank You For Sharing

      Please be aware a conversation was had by the parents and a Mrs Darnel about why this particular image was displayed and that is why when the school declined the interview with Wgn. We seem to be avoiding the issue of this image is offensive to others and should not have been displayed

  • ANONYMOUS

    If Tom actually interviewed the students in her class they would get a completely different story. I was in the class when this project was presented. No one (many whom were African American) didn’t have a problem with it as it was clearly explained by the presenters that it was to describe racism in the 1920’s. This project had been up for months and everyone knew what it was for. These girls are trying to get out of trouble by doing this. I call on Tom to interview the students that witnessed the presentation.

    • Thank You For Sharing

      You should be asking the school district why they declined the interview. Children, I know you feel as if you know it all but you do Not! If you are correct in saying it was up for months then you just provided proof of the schools neglect.

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