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Naperville race

Naperville residents discuss race at a community conversation hosted by Naperville School District 203 on Thursday, Nov. 21, 2019. On Wednesday, a local high school student was charged with a hate crime.

Naperville Parents Say Racism Isn't New In Schools

School district officials heard from weary parents Thursday, one day after a student was charged after allegedly posting a racist ad online.

About 100 Naperville residents gathered for a conversation Thursday morning on race and implicit bias one day after a high schooler there was charged with a hate crime.

Naperville School District 203 officials say the community conversation was scheduled weeks before two public incidents put a spotlight on the west suburban city.

On Wednesday, a Naperville Central High School student was charged with a hate crime in juvenile court for allegedly posting a racist ad on Craigslist that included a picture of a black student titled “Slave for Sale.” And last month, at a Naperville Buffalo Wild Wings, a group was asked to move because another patron did not want to be seated near black people.

“Unfortunately, I know what we’ve dealt with this week is not the only act of racism or hatred that we had to deal with in this community or in our schools,” Supt. Dan Bridges told the group gathered Thursday morning at the Naperville Municipal Center.

Bridges told the room that he met with the parents of the boy who was pictured in the Craigslist ad. He learned that the boy had been subjected to other racist incidents.

“Unfortunately, this is not the first conversation I had to have with a parent this year regarding how their child has felt in our schools,” he said.

Several parents in the room agreed, including Marla Baker. She said there had been no consequences for the students who racially bullied her son when they told him to kill himself and called him racial slurs.

“He doesn’t trust the administration in this community. He doesn’t trust that they will support him,” she said tearfully. “There are days my son doesn’t want to go to school.”

Other parents said they felt racial bias often gets swept under the rug until something big happens, like the incident this week.

Parent Cy Fields said the district needs to make sure the burden of equity and inclusion is shared. He said people of color are often left having to fix the problem.

“Are you having your conversation in your home, in your systems?” he asked the room, which included a mix of parents and community members of different races. The school district is 62% white, 17% Asian, 11% Hispanic and 5% black.

Fields said he was surprised this week when his middle school daughter, who is black, was told by a white friend it wouldn’t be a problem if he made a similar Craigslist post about her because they are friends.

“Somebody’s not having a conversation with [the student],” Fields said. “It’s what all the kids are talking about in junior high, all over the district, and he felt it was OK to say, ‘I could do that to you and it’d be OK, right?”

The students involved in the incident at Naperville Central High School are reportedly friends. District leaders on Thursday say the realize problems that have long affected the district are not always what people think of as overt racism.

Dr. Rakeda Leaks, executive director of diversity and inclusion at Naperville 203, lead the group discussion on Thursday. She asked people whether they’ve heard someone say they can’t be racist because they are a good person. She also asked if someone’s concerns were dismissed because they were told they were being too sensitive.

Leaks, who has held the new position for the last two years, also asked residents to discuss how or if they talk about racism with their kids. Some said they’d never experienced discrimination and weren’t sure how to address those issues with children.

Supt. Bridges said the conversation would continue and he promised to take action, including equity training at schools.

“We need to be better about providing a learning community that supports all kids, in all ways. No matter who they are, no matter where they come from, no matter how long they’ve been in this community,” Bridges said.

Some residents were visibly emotional as they left the event. They said people who aren’t typically part of these district conversations weren’t present and need to be in the room. They said the conversations so far have only scratched the surface.

Susie An covers education for WBEZ. Follow her on Twitter @WBEZeducation and @soosieon.

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