Racial tensions might have kept kids out of school

May 09, 2006|by DON AINES


Nearly 300 students were absent from J. Frank Faust Junior High School on Monday, an apparent reaction to fears generated by a racially tinged incident involving white and Hispanic students Friday that sent 15 students home, school officials said.

Two students face possible suspension and juvenile criminal charges after one of them brought a utility knife to school, but Principal Rick Keller said that had nothing to do with Friday's incident or rumors of weapons being brought to school.

"We had about 15 kids out on the bus ramp posturing against the Hispanic kids" on Friday morning, Keller said Monday. Those taunting the Hispanics were white students wearing white T-shirts, he said.


"We told them you can either change your shirts and it's business as usual, or you can go home for the day," Keller said. About half the group would not change out of the shirts and were sent home, he said.

Friday was Cinco de Mayo, a Mexican holiday, and some Hispanic students went to school wearing T-shirts with emblems of Latin American countries, although Keller said he did not recall seeing any shirts with Mexican flags.

Throughout the rest of the day, other verbal altercations took place, but no fights, and Keller said more students, including "two or three" Hispanics, were sent home. No black students were involved, he said.

The wearing of white T-shirts was reminiscent of incidents in 2003 at Faust when there was racial tension between white and black students. Keller said there is no rule against white T-shirts, but he said the incident Friday was an obvious effort to intimidate the Hispanics.

About 50 of the 1,385 students at the school are Hispanic, Keller said.

The 15 students sent home Friday face "appropriate disciplinary action," Superintendent Edwin Sponseller said. The 289 students who were absent Monday do not, he said.

"We will not give them an unlawful absence. Parents are concerned," Sponseller said.

On Friday afternoon, a Hispanic student started a rumor of a gun in the school, Keller said. The student was taken to the office and admitted saying it because he was angry, Keller said.

No weapons were found Friday, but Keller said that did not stop the rumors.

"By the end of the day, there must have been eight guns in the school," he said. "Kids talk. They text message. They get on the Web."

Armed with three fishing rods and a skateboard, four students who were in school Monday did not seem overly concerned as they walked through the parking lot at about 4 p.m.

"I thought the school handled it well ... as far as safety goes," ninth-grader David Juarez said.

"People can say stuff, but they won't go through with it," said Carl Sheriff, an eighth-grader who is part Hispanic. Sheriff said that he thought more police at the school "made people even more tense."

"Nobody is going to do anything at Faust," said eighth-grader Logan McCusker, who is white.

Rodney Jones, who said he is part black and part white, said the teachers and police were enough to discourage anyone from causing trouble.

"Dr. Keller read a corny poem" over the intercom about people getting along, one of the students said.

Keller said he did not believe the student who brought the knife did so intentionally. The boy lives on a farm and told school officials he had put the knife in his jeans and forgotten about it until he got to school.

The boy gave the knife to a girl to hold for him until school was over, but school officials found out, Keller said.

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