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.”

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