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Black History Month presentation at DHS prompts fear, rumors

D-428 superintendent: 99 percent of problems occurred on social media

Danielle Guerra -                                                      
DeKalb High School junior Andre Allen Jr. performs an original rap "I Can't Breathe" during the DeKalb Black Student Union's annual assembly in honor of Black History Month on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.
Danielle Guerra - DeKalb High School junior Andre Allen Jr. performs an original rap "I Can't Breathe" during the DeKalb Black Student Union's annual assembly in honor of Black History Month on Wednesday, Feb. 24, 2016.

DeKALB – About 220 students at DeKalb High School stayed home from school Thursday, a day after a series of Black History Month assemblies led to racially charged exchanges and rumors about threats against the school, DeKalb School District 428 Superintendent Doug Moeller said.

Moeller said the district should have been more prompt in reaching out to parents about the situation Wednesday, and that content of the presentations should have been reviewed more closely.

However, he said authorities found there was no credible reason to cancel school.

“We work with the police and we try to assess the risk, and we found there to be little,” Moeller said. “Canceling school would have just had kids spending all day dwelling on it on social media.”

Students attended assemblies in three groups, during which students performed an original spoken word called “Angry Black Woman,” a rap song titled “I Can’t Breathe,” and other performances.

The Black History Month presentation was staged by the Black Student Union at the school.

“I don’t think [the high school administration] did their due diligence in terms of reviewing the skits and the songs that were going to be presented,” Moeller said. “Again, I didn’t find them offensive, but I can understand how some of our students might find them offensive, just given the race relationships in this town.”

There were “absolutely no fights whatsoever” at the school as a result of the assemblies, Moeller said, and student dismissal Wednesday went as normal. Principal Tamra Ropeter had a scheduled absence Thursday, he said.

The school’s first outreach to parents was a recorded message sent at 8:12 p.m. Wednesday.

District 428 Board President Victoria Newport wasn’t immediately available for comment Thursday. Board member Howard Solomon said that he was “stunned to see as much dissension” as there was on social media.

He added that although he didn’t have children in the school, he wouldn’t have been offended if they heard the spoken-word piece “Angry Black Woman,” which he saw online. 

“Saying there is much to be done is not anything I’d want to hide,” he said. “Unless you see a problem, there is no way you can address the problem.” 

Latausha Allen, mother of student Andre Allen Jr. who performed in the assembly, said that she didn’t think her son’s performance of an original song, “I Can’t Breathe,” which focused on police violence and the Black Lives Matter movement, was offensive. 

“I don’t think there was anything in there that is bashing another race,” she said. “It’s him expressing how he feels today about all the issues going on in DeKalb and all the around the country.” 

Ninety-nine percent of the problem arose on social media afterward, Moeller said.

“When situations like this arise, there’s a lot of heightened feelings, and what we’ve got to do is try to get the emotions in check,” Moeller said. “Social media was going all night long, and watching a lot of these kids come in this morning, they looked like they hadn’t slept all night.”

Students react

Student Jacki Rapp said that she wasn’t offended by the presentation, but could see how some people could take it the wrong way.

She said that she didn’t see any fights at the school Wednesday. 

“Yesterday, it was pretty much the poem that people were offended by,” she said. “I wasn’t offended at all. They could have maybe taken a different approach, but I liked it.” 

Some students, such as Kadarian Nellem, said they found the performances meaningful.

He said that he didn’t see any fights at the school, but saw threats of violence on social media sites.

“I actually enjoyed [the assembly],” he said. “I had no problem with it.” 

Some parents were concerned about the content of the presentation and the way the school district handled the conflict. 

“There’s been no communication,” parent Marika Wasmund said. “Parents are speculating on Facebook about what is going on.” 

Various posts on social media sites drew more than a hundred comments from parents and students. Bill Anderson, another parent, said he was surprised by some of the things he read. 

“I think as parents and as leaders in the community, we need to look at ourselves in the mirror,” he said. “And wonder if we are really doing what we are supposed to be to provide for the future. From what I’ve seen in the last 12 hours, it doesn’t seem that way.” 

Despite the lack of a credible threat, officials did take extra precautions. DeKalb police committed extra school resource officers to the high school, and Moeller said that other police were in the area. Several events were canceled Thursday including the Gamer’s Guild, credit recovery, after-school detention and the Black Student Union poetry slam. The police presence remained on campus until about 2:45 p.m. as students left.

Twelve administrators from around the district also were in the building Thursday, Moeller said.

It might be a few days before teachers address the issue in classrooms, he said. Moeller said the district might also hold parental information meetings in the future.

“Probably next week we’ll start bringing this up as a teachable moment, probably in our social studies classes,” Moeller said. “We’ll talk about it because it did bring to light an issue in the community.”

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