A crowd of students and parents protested outside Hazel Wolf K-8 in Seattle’s Northgate area Friday morning, calling for more action in response to racial bullying there.
Twice this school year already, black students have been referred to by racial slurs and compared to monkeys by some of their peers, said Aselefech Evans, who chairs the racial-equity committee of the school’s parent-teacher association.
Racial slurs have been a problem at the school for a few years now, she said. But despite parents and students reporting the incidents, protesters said the school administration hasn’t done enough to address the incidents directly. Most of the students and staff at the STEM-focused option school are white, but since its opening in 2009, it has also drawn African and other immigrant students.
“A lot of students are suffering in silence,” said Evans.
She said the breaking point was this week, when her 13-year-old daughter, Zariyah, said she received pushback and skepticism when she told an administrator at Hazel Wolf that one of her friends was the target of a slur. Zariyah and her friends started a petition calling for action and asked their parents to help organize the event.
In an email, Debbie Nelsen, the principal, confirmed that racial name-calling among students happens at the school. But she called the allegations against the school “inaccurate.”
“We deal with every situation brought to us immediately and with a constant eye on social justice and equity,” she wrote. “This includes gathering as much information as possible so that we are able to move forward based on facts.”
She said the school settles these incidents on a case-by-case basis; first by interviewing the students involved, then notifying their parents and then determining what the next steps should be. This year’s incidents have already been addressed, she said, but she did not provide specific information about how.
“Every student is taken seriously when their concerns come to us,” Nelsen wrote. She confirmed that the school hasn’t sent out a general message to parents informing them of the incidents.
The challenge of addressing reports of racism among students isn’t unique to Hazel Wolf. It’s vexed schools in the Seattle area and around the country. In the last year alone: A photo of two students from Mercer Island High School giving a Nazi salute was posted to social-media platforms in March; at Seattle’s Roosevelt High School, the student newspaper printed a racist image on its front page; and students in Issaquah also staged a protest over a racist prom proposal.
Students have three requests for the school: an end to anti-black racial slurs, an assembly or presentation informing students about the history of racist language and more support for students affected by these incidents.
Parents want formal, accessible documentation of cases where students are called racial slurs, more transparency and notifications about when these incidents happen — especially to immigrant families — and more teachers of color.
Nelsen said the school already documents the cases in students’ discipline files, and invites parents of those affected to the school. She said the school is also working on a way to educate students on the significance and history of racial slurs.
“I have a high level of respect for our school community parents, and it would have been helpful if we were contacted with these questions so how we approached this issue could be communicated accurately,” she wrote.
“Today’s demonstration highlights the need for continued focus and diligence,” Tim Robinson, a Seattle Public Schools spokesman, said in an email. “We will continue to support school leaders in addressing incidents of racial bias and hate; as well as provide guidance on how to support community healing.”
Still, Zariyah and other students at the protest told The Seattle Times there is a culture of quiet about racism at the school.
“Usually, at this school, not many people care about black lives until February,” said Yassir, 15, a former Hazel Wolf student who is now a freshman at Nathan Hale High School.
At the protest, many wore black sweatshirts designed by students last year in honor of Black Lives Matter week. Some staff members at the school were there in support. Eseosa Orhuozee, an attendance specialist, said the frustrations from parents and students are warranted.
“Right now, students are not well,” she said. “It feels like a dark cloud.”