SOUTH LOOP — Parents and faculty want a Jones College Prep student to be disciplined after he wore what appeared to be a Nazi uniform and goose stepped at the school’s Halloween Day parade — and they want the principal dismissed for his reaction to the incident.
Clips of the student marching in the Monday parade made the rounds on social media this week. In one clip, he can be seen swinging his arm and leg in a march — now largely associated with Nazi soldiers — to boos from the audience.
But the principal has downplayed the incident, an alumna and school staffer said. Students planned a walkout Monday at the school, 700 S. State St.
Jones employees and parents want the Principal Joseph Powers dismissed for his response to this and past racist incidents, a staff member and a school parent said.
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In an email to Jones faculty and staff hours after the event, Powers said the student’s uniform was “an East German (communist era) border guard uniform probably from the 1980s,” adding that he’d seen guards on the “other side of the wall dressed this way” during a visit to West Berlin around that time.
“I tried to explain the context and time period of the uniform to the students who spoke with me, but apparently the student who wore the uniform may have told people it was from the 1940s. I spoke with him this afternoon and explained the same thing to him and the inferences others may have drawn,” Powers wrote.
Some faculty said they felt Powers’ response was inadequate but “on brand.” Jones has weathered multiple controversies during Powers’ tenure, including the removal of a longtime theater teacher after students complained about “offensive comments.”
Powers did not respond to Block Club’s request for comment.
An expert on antiracism in schools said not reacting appropriately to such an incident could lead to more harm.
The Chicago Teachers Union also issued a statement condemning the incident, saying Jones has been “plagued for years with charges that include persistent racial intolerance.”
“Everyone at Jones suffers as behavior such as this goes unchecked and undisciplined, and for Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Chicago Public Schools to keep the current administration in place shows their lack of regard for the families, faculty and staff they should be protected,” said CTU spokesperson Chris Geovanis.
Chicago Public Schools spokesperson Evan Moore said in a statement CPS is “working with school and district leaders to address the matter,” saying it will inform the Jones community of any updates.
According to CPS’s Student Code of Conduct, school administrators and designees are to refer to the “Addressing Bullying and Bias-based Behavior” policy in the handbook for instructions on addressing student behavior. If the claims is substantiated, administrators are to “assign relevant [Student Code of Conduct] codes, restorative interventions, applicable consequences, and seek to identify and disrupt the systems and structures in our schools that allow discrimination to occur.”
‘The Behavior Never Changes’
A staff member who asked to remain anonymous said one of their students was so distraught by what they witnessed that they took a day off school for their mental health after the parade. Though the staffer wasn’t present at the parade, two teachers forwarded them clips of the incident, they said.
The student who had to take a day off has had classes with the uniform-wearing student and said the uniform-wearing student has made racist and inflammatory comments in the past, the staff member said.
The student who took a day off “is Jewish and queer, and they don’t feel supported or safe at the school. The behavior never changes, and [Powers] never does anything about it,” the staff member said. “There are never consequences. If you have enough powerful white parents in your corner, you can do whatever the f— you want.”
Faculty and students have grown used to Powers ignoring and downplaying racist incidents to the point where they’re almost desensitized, the staffer said. Complaints have gone unaddressed, the staffer said.
The staffer said a culture and climate coordinator recently hired by the school was present for the Halloween parade but did not intervene.
“Up until last year, if someone had asked me if I’d stay, I’d say, ‘All schools have their problems,’ that there is no perfect school,” the staffer said. “But these past six months, I’ve started to talk to other teachers about other schools, asking them what it’s like to work at their school. I’ve worked at other schools with fewer resources, so I know the stresses there. It is starting to take a toll where I’m considering leaving.”
Cassie Cresswell, a parent and former local school council presidents who has pushed for Powers’ dismissal since 2020, said school parents have renewed their demands this week after the Powers’ reaction to the incident.
History Of Downplaying Racism At School, Alumna Says
Jones alumna Doniya Boyd, who graduated in 2021, said racist behavior was common during her time at the school. Boyd served as student representative of the local school council for two years, often calling on Powers to discipline students engaging in racist behavior, but the administrator never took action, she said.
“I can’t tell you how many racists incidents my personal group of friends experienced and how many times we marched into the principal’s office to talk about it: 14-year-old girls crying in the office because they’re experiencing blatant racism, and Powers never blinked an eye,” Boyd said.
When Boyd was a freshman, students participated in a Snapchat trend in which a person would say something and put a backwards filter on it, making it sound like something else, she said. A male student used the trend to say the n-word. When Black students took the matter to Powers, the administrator downplayed it in a message to students and staff, saying it was “just a little trend where you say something bad,” Boyd said.
A story Boyd cowrote as managing editor of the student newspaper her senior year about anonymous users engaging in racist and antisemitic behavior on a school Discord channel went unaddressed by school administrators, she said.
When a petition calling for Powers’ dismissal circulated in 2020, former students spoke of the racism they encountered during their time at Jones at a local school council meeting, Boyd said, adding that the incidents dated back 10 years.
Boyd said Powers is “purposely dense” when it comes to addressing racism.
“He thinks that the Jones community is going to take this very simplistic explanation of blatant racism and ignore the blatant racism of it,” Boyd said. “Even if the uniform was from whatever specific time Powers is saying it’s from, or that it may or may not be directly associated with Nazis, this student’s intention was that it be perceived as a Nazi uniform.
“It does not matter what army or technical group or what name they use. He’s, again, being purposely dense and thinking the rest of us are going to play into it.”
Nora Flanagan, a veteran CPS teacher and senior fellow at the Western States Center, which battles extremist activity, said Powers mishandled the incident by not immediately addressing the student’s behavior and minimizing the impact it had on the school community. Flanagan co-authored a “Confronting White Nationalism In Schools” toolkit in 2019.
“Maybe the more we have these conversations, the less this stuff will end up happening in schools,” Flanagan said. “Maybe more educators will know how to address these thing.
“We talk about not overreacting or criminalizing a kid for wearing a Halloween costume because all you’re doing is pushing them further into extremism. Don’t minimize or under-react, either, because that sends a horrific, dangerous and harmful message to the entire school community.”
In an email sent to the Jones community late Thursday, Powers said representatives from several central offices — including the Office of Student Protections, the Office of Social and Emotional Learning, the Office of Safety and Security and the Equity Office — would be at the school Friday to provide support to students and receive reports of harm students have experienced.
“We deeply regret the pain that this incident has caused our school community, and we ask for your partnership as we address this situation and move forward together,” Powers wrote.