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St. Francis grapples with racist online posts

St. Francis Protest” width=
Courtesy of Alicia Labana
Dozens of parents, students and local residents marched from St. Francis High School to the corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real to protest racist online posts connected to St. Francis students and recent graduates.

Parents and students at St. Francis High School are calling on administrators to take action to combat racial injustice on campus in the wake of racist online posts connected to St. Francis students and recent graduates.

In early June, administrators discovered a racist Instagram post mocking George Floyd’s death that school officials say was connected with recent graduates.

A Change.org petition demanding discipline for the students involved includes a screenshot of a post, which appears to use the N-word, partially covered by an emoji, to refer to Floyd. The petition has garnered more than 7,800 signatures as of the Town Crier’s Monday press deadline.

The Instagram account has since been taken down and St. Francis has launched a disciplinary investigation. In the course of that investigation, additional posts connected with St. Francis students were found, president Jason Curtis said in an email statement.

Last week, dozens of parents, students and local residents marched from the school to the corner of Castro Street and El Camino Real to protest racism at St. Francis and demand action be taken against the students who made the offensive posts.

St. Francis parent Alicia Labana organized the protest and said in an interview that administrators need to take swift steps to correct racial inequities at the school, including disciplining the students and updating curriculum to directly tackle racism.

“There’s got to be some serious consequences, and I’m talking expulsion,” Labana said. “I don’t want my daughter going to a school with a bunch of racists.”

Curtis said the school’s leadership team has learned of “overt acts of racism and misogyny that transpired within our community,” which are in “complete contradiction of our Holy Cross mission and values.” However, he declined to release details about the posts, the results of the disciplinary investigation or the punishments for the students involved.

“Due to issues of confidentiality, we are unable to share details of a disciplinary investigation or outcome,” Curtis said in an emailed statement. “We have issued extremely serious consequences, and will continue to investigate if other incidents are brought to our attention.”

Labana said that at the very least, she wants to know what the repercussions generally are for students who make these types of posts. However, she said that when she has asked administrators, they haven’t been able to say.

Beyond the Instagram post mocking Floyd, Labana said she has also seen other racist posts by members of the St. Francis community, including one of students in black face. When Labana saw them, she emailed administrators wanting to know how the school will be responding.

“I was upset, I was disappointed in the school,” she said. “All my admiration for the school went out the window, I’ll be honest with you.”

Since moving to the Bay Area from New York several years ago, Labana said she has personally experienced racism locally, including being called the N-word and told to go back to her country.

“I don’t want my kids to be experiencing what I’ve experienced,” she said. “I can handle it, I can take care of that. But my children shouldn’t have to be in an environment where they’re not safe, where they’re not welcomed or where they’re not nurtured. It’s simple.”

‘Now is the time’

The school held a listening session over Zoom last week, where Labana said parents shared negative experiences with the school. She said she’s also heard from alumni that there have been racist incidents in the past, without sufficient response from the administration.

“Unfortunately, we cannot change past incidents or actions, but we can demonstrate our commitment to equity, anti-racism, and inclusion,” Curtis said. “We are working hard to ensure these types of behaviors do not occur on our campus in the future, and we are grateful for the partnership of our faculty and staff, students, parents, and alumni in this important work.”

School officials announced they would audit the curriculum in all subjects and hold teachers accountable for implementing an anti-bias curriculum. St. Francis also will add an ethnic studies graduation requirement for incoming students, to be rolled out in the fall of 2021.

Labana said that after speaking with Curtis, she is hopeful changes will be made but plans to hold administrators accountable for following through. She added that parents also have an obligation to teach their children about the importance of racial equality from a young age.

“You have to speak up for what’s right,” Labana said. “You have to stop racial injustice, it’s just not acceptable. Now is the time.”

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