Jones College Prep students protest German soldier costume and administration’s handling of controversial incidents

Hundreds of students at the South Loop selective-enrollment school participated in Monday’s demonstration, leaving their classes for a “sit-in” in the school’s lobby.

Students stand outside in the courtyard at Jones College Prep
Students stand outside in the courtyard at Jones College Prep on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, to listen to speakers discuss the recent mishandling of a student who wore a German soldier-style uniform in a school halloween costume contest. Anthony Vazquez / Chicago Sun-Times
Students stand outside in the courtyard at Jones College Prep
Students stand outside in the courtyard at Jones College Prep on Monday, Nov. 7, 2022, to listen to speakers discuss the recent mishandling of a student who wore a German soldier-style uniform in a school halloween costume contest. Anthony Vazquez / Chicago Sun-Times

Jones College Prep students protest German soldier costume and administration’s handling of controversial incidents

Hundreds of students at the South Loop selective-enrollment school participated in Monday’s demonstration, leaving their classes for a “sit-in” in the school’s lobby.

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Students at Jones College Prep High School walked out of classes Monday to protest their administration’s handling of troubling incidents over the years, most recently a student’s German soldier-style Halloween costume.

Hundreds of kids at the South Loop selective-enrollment school participated in the demonstration, wearing black shirts to show solidarity and leaving their classes for a “sit-in” in the school’s lobby.

Students and parents were furious at the outfit many believe resembled Nazi attire — along with the student’s goose-stepping and salute during a school costume showcase — and the response by Principal Joseph Powers, who told the school community in an email last week that he didn’t believe the student had dressed up as a Nazi but rather a 1980s-era East German soldier.

CPS CEO Pedro Martinez suspended Powers later Friday pending a district investigation of the incident.

“We’re over it, we’re so done with the admin being complacent,” student Florence Tang, 17, said. “It wasn’t just about the Halloween incident, it was about the years of complacency and inaction at Jones that really triggered this protest and this movement.”

Tang, a senior, said the costume caused years of student frustrations over “racism, bigotry, discrimination and hatred” at Jones to boil over. Tang helps lead the Empowering Women of Color club at Jones and was part of a group of students who organized Monday’s protest.

“As high schoolers we all have drama, we all have gossip, we all have little divisions and cliques, but when it comes to things like this, having everybody come together and move past their differences is really heartwarming,” Tang said.

She said many students were happy to see Powers suspended and hope he will be replaced with a principal “who is actually willing to listen to students and take the right step toward change.”

Gabriel Willis, 18, said he was “really disappointed” the school’s administration failed to immediately address the costume last week and looked for ways to explain and contextualize the outfit rather than listen to concerns.

“He shouldn’t have been able to walk the stage,” Willis said of the student who wore the soldier costume.

Other leaders with the Black Student Union, who helped organize the demonstration, said they hope to use this moment to create meaningful change for marginalized groups at the school.

This isn’t the first time Powers has faced criticism for his handling of a school controversy.

Students last year accused Powers of failing to report or discipline theater teacher Brad Lyons after he was accused of mistreating students. A Sun-Times story detailed allegations against him.

Block Club Chicago also reported on complaints about an alleged pattern of discrimination at the school, including unequal treatment of boys and girls sports. And students protested the school’s dress code.

Earlier this year, Powers survived an effort by the local school council to oust him over several allegations, including a possible violation of the district’s residency requirement stemming from his maintaining a primary home in Missouri, and accusations that he fostered an unwelcoming environment for students and staff of color and transgender and gender nonconforming students.

After declining to fire Powers at the time, Martinez said there was “insufficient evidence of misconduct by Mr. Powers at this time on which to base an action for involuntary dismissal.”