School officials address 3 racist, anti-Semitic incidents at OPRF

UPDATE: A 14-year-old has been charged with sending swastikas to students' phones. Click here for more.

OAK PARK, Ill. — Families of students at Oak Park and River Forest High School will soon receive letters from their district superintendent about three incidents involving racist images at the school.

The letters are part of a series of measures school officials are taking after racist graffiti was twice found on campus and some students were later sent images of swastikas to their smartphones during an assembly.

Students at Oak Park and River Forest High School, 201 Scoville Ave. in Oak Park, will also see an increased police presence.

On Sunday, students and parents rallied at the school and marched to downtown Oak Park.

District Supt. Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams said the school will form a student advisory committee by Thanksgiving to represent the school’s diversity.

In a statement, Pruitt-Adams said, “As unsettling as the events of the past week have been, I do believe that they are a sign that change is coming. ... As our community watched ‘America to Me’ this fall, many people have been realizing that change is sorely needed in Oak Park and River Forest if we are to be a place that truly lives its values of racial justice.”

Read the full letter sent to parents below:

Dear OPRF High School Students and Families,

As we prepare to begin a new week following the incidents of hate speech and intimidation on campus last week, I know many of you are feeling worried and scared. You wonder if the school is taking these incidents seriously enough, what we’re doing to ensure the safety of all the children and staff in our building. You wonder when things will change for the better.

As unsettling as the events of the past week have been, I do believe that they are a sign that change is coming. When systems feel threatened, they tend to react in unhealthy ways to hold those systems in place. As our community has watched America to Me this fall, many people have been realizing that change is sorely needed in Oak Park and River Forest if we are to be a place that truly lives its values of racial justice. We are far from the only school and community grappling with this truth right now, of course. But if we remain steadfast and work together, I do believe our community can achieve great things in pursuit of equity and excellence for all students.

I want to share with you the following:

  • The safety of your children and our staff is our number one priority. We will have an extra police presence on campus this week. Anyone who has a safety concern between 7:00 a.m. and 10:00 p.m. Monday through Friday should do one of the following:
  • Tell one of our security staff members or police officers on site.
  • Call the OPRF security staff at 708-434-3125.
  • Text keyword OPRF to our anonymous tip line at 274637.
  • Outside these hours, please call 911.
  • If you have a safety concern, please report it to one of the resources above, rather than post about it on social media. Social media can be a useful tool for sharing information and building community. But as we saw with Friday’s incident of false information about a threat of violence on campus, posting rumors, gossip, and misinformation can also needlessly spread fear and panic. Images of hate speech also can be quite triggering for many people. We cannot stress enough: We are able to deal most effectively with safety concerns when they are reported directly to us, rather than spread on social media.
  • We cannot, and will not, share any disciplinary action taken in cases of student misconduct. We are bound by the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act, or FERPA. Even if the school does not name a particular student, that student’s identity may become known to students and adults through informal channels. We will not compromise their privacy by failing to uphold federal law.
  • Administrators are developing an action plan for moving forward. Many of you have reached out to us to offer your support and to suggest various resources that can help us defuse the current tensions, fight hatred, and ensure a safe school community. We greatly appreciate your help, because eradicating hate requires much more than just a school-wide effort. These issues, unfortunately, are happening in communities and schools through the country. This will take our entire community to address them, and we appreciate your efforts to help us determine a plan of action.
  • I am forming a student advisory committee that is diverse across all student demographics, including race, religion, ethnicity, etc. I will have this committee in place by Thanksgiving.
  • Administration is developing a racial equity policy to be approved by the Board. Principal Nate Rouse initially proposed such a policy to the Board at its Sept. 18, 2018, Committee of the Whole meeting. (See the policy by clicking here.) Since then our students have created a petition demanding a policy be approved, and community group Committee for Equity and Excellence in Education (CEEE) has proposed its own policy to the Board. To ensure that all voices are heard, we will work with a team of students and others to create and finalize a racial equity policy that we will bring to the Board for approval no later than the end of this school year.
  • We will be working with students to address the other demands in their petition. We hear you, we support you, and we promise to act.
    We recognize that as a district, we have much work to do. We do not have all the answers. But let there be no mistake: We stand behind our students. We are fully committed to working with them and our wider school community to ensure a positive, just, equitable climate and educational experience for all our students.

Sincerely,
Dr. Joylynn Pruitt-Adams
Superintendent