EDGEWATER — Students at Senn High School staged a sit-in Wednesday after a staff member allegedly told a student sitting through the national anthem to “go back to your country.”
Videos posted to social media show dozens of students staging a sit-in in the hallways of Senn, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave. In the videos, large groups of students can be heard calling for the firing of the teacher accused of racism.
At a school assembly in late January, two Senn seniors sat down during the national anthem, the students said. A teacher came up to the girls and told them to stand for the anthem or leave, before allegedly telling a student of Hispanic descent to “go back to your country,” the student said.
“I told [the teacher] I was born here, and [the teacher] told me to go somewhere else,'” the student said.
The teacher also allegedly asked the second student, who is African American, if she received free lunch at Senn. The teacher told the student she was disrespecting those who died for her right to receive a free lunch, she said.
Both students were asked to leave the assembly, the girls told Block Club. The students, who aim to be the first in their families to go to college, instead went to work on college applications.
Chicago Public Schools officials said they are investigating the alleged incident of racial discrimination.
“CPS is committed to fostering learning environments that embrace and support all students, and the alleged actions of the teacher in question run counter to our beliefs and priorities as a school district,” spokesperson James Gherardi said. “The district is opening an investigation into the alleged actions, and we support the students who have peacefully raised their concerns.”
The alleged incident has caused friction at the school, with some teachers apologizing to the students, they said. It led to the sit-in Wednesday, with students taking to the school’s hallways in protest of the alleged act of discrimination.
A 15-year-old girl was arrested during the sit-in after she pushed a 55-year-old school administrator trying to break up a fight, causing the man to fall, according to Chicago Police. The girl was charged with battery.
Video of the sit-in has been shared on social media, including by Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates.
In an email to Senn families, Principal Mary Beck said she is handling the alleged incident “in accordance with CPS policy.” Beck said that the incident has also shown the “need to increase opportunities for them [students] to feel heard and share their experiences.”
After the sit-in, Beck met with the students involved in the action and discussed ways to prevent further incidents. The principal also sent an email to students reiterating the school’s commitment to diversity and an inclusive environment.
“Overall, there was a lot of emotion to work through for students,” Beck wrote in the note to Senn families. “I am relying on my staff and, asking you as parents, to help guide our students through processing these feelings.”
The student who was allegedly told to “go back to your own country” has been in touch with Beck on the issue, she said.
The girls decided to sit through the national anthem to protest the treatment of immigrants and refugees in America, they said. As they sat, a teacher came up and asked if the reason they weren’t standing is because their legs were broken.
After a back-and-forth between the teacher and students, other staff members intervened, ultimately requesting that the students leave the assembly, they said.
“The thing that’s confusing was the teachers jumped to the teacher’s aid. They weren’t trying to understand us,” said one of the students involved. “They said we were being disruptive, but they were the ones who made it a bigger deal.”
One of the students involved called the incident “upsetting,” especially because Senn has a large minority student population.
Senn’s population of about 1,500 students is 42 percent Hispanic, 24 percent Black, 17 percent Asian and 13 percent white, according to CPS.
The student who was told to go back to her country said her parents came to the United States from Mexico when they were 13 years old, seeking a better life for the next generation.
She sat through the national anthem to protest the treatment of immigrants who are only seeking the same thing as her parents, she said.
“These young people have the same experiences as me and want to come here, but are dying. They’re put in cages, treated as animals,” she said. “And I’m over here, living the life, but not fighting for them?”
Do stories like this matter to you? Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.