EDGEWATER — The national spotlight was on Senn High School Wednesday as students denounced the actions of a teacher who allegedly told a Hispanic student to “go back to your country.”
But Thursday things were returning to normal at the school, according to students. As of 2 p.m., a Senn student said all was quiet — while students who led the protests are working on a way to get school staff to make changes to ensure inclusiveness.
On Wednesday, dozens of students took to the hallways of Senn, 5900 N. Glenwood Ave., demanding that action be taken against the teacher accused of racial discrimination.
The story has been picked up by national news outlets, and students broadcast their sit-in on Twitter and Instagram.
Now that their protests have garnered national attention, the students who said they are the victims of the racial harassment are drafting a contract they say will help avoid such problems in the future.
The contract, which they are hoping Principal Mary Beck will sign, includes commitments to additional cultural training for staff, a formal school policy on the national anthem and town hall style meetings for students to discuss issues like cultural sensitivity, according to a draft of the contract shared with Block Club.
“This school has a lot of minority students,” said one of the students. “We don’t want this to happen again.”
The teacher at the Far North Side high school has been accused of discriminating against two seniors — both minority students — who sat through the national anthem.
At a Hispanic heritage assembly held Jan. 30 at Senn, the two girls joined other students in sitting through the national anthem. 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.
The same teacher is accused of discriminating against a black student who sat through the anthem, asking if the student received fee lunch and remarking that people died for her right to receive the lunch. CPS announced Wednesday that they are investigating the alleged incidents.
The two students who were the recipients the alleged racial harassment told Block Club Chicago the incident was “upsetting” and has caused friction at the high school.
Video from the sit-in at Senn show students holding signs calling for the accused teacher’s firing. Sitting in the hallways, the students chanted “We are Senn.”
Footage of the sit-in protest was shared far and wide, including by Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Stacy Davis Gates. In a statement, the teachers union said it expects “tolerance and inclusivity” from its members and all CPS staff.
“Our union looks to our students for guidance and understanding of what they are seeing as young adults,” CTU spokesperson Ronnie Resse said in a statement. “Schools are places where students, faculty, staff and administrators must be respected and treated with dignity, and where students learn to be civically minded and use their voices and their power to defend themselves or anyone close to them. That is the whole point of public education.”
Multiple fights broke out during the sit-in, according to a student’s social media account. The fights were unrelated to the protest, but they caused Principal Beck to ask the kids to leave, the student tweeted.
A 15-year-old girl was arrested and charged with battery Wednesday after allegedly pushing a 55-year-old school administrator who was trying to break up a fight at the school. Police would not release further details Thursday.
The girls decided to sit through the national anthem to protest the treatment of immigrants and the use of deadly force by police, 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.”
Beck, Senn’s principal, said in a letter to families that she is following CPS protocol regarding the complaint against the teacher and has reiterated Senn’s commitment to diversity and inclusiveness.
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 said she 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.
The student sent Block Club a written essay about why she decided to sit for the national anthem.
“Despite having a paper that states that I am a US citizens [sic], they will never consider me one…” she wrote.
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that student protests continued Thursday.