While race issues were not a scheduled emphasis of the 2015–16 Platteville High School curriculum, they are now.
Platteville police spent Friday morning, a scheduled half-day, at the school after a Facebook post threat.
Platteville Public Schools superintendent Connie Valenza said a phone call early Friday reported “some alarming Facebook posts that suggested the possibility that somebody had access to or could bring a weapon to deal with a racial-based incident.”
The threat, which was posted by someone who is not a PHS student, “wasn’t a credible threat,” said Valenza. But a “small number of students, I believe” were “posting some racially derogatory posts on Facebook,” which ended up “creating tensions with other students in the school.”
Other posts were made by former PHS students and students from other school districts over last weekend, she said.
Since then, PHS had consecutive days of meetings with its students, beginning with a survey filled out by 372 PHS students on race relations and safety issues Friday morning, “just to get a feel of what exactly were the issues at the school and what was the best avenue going forward to address that,” said Valenza, to “make all students feel a valued part of the school.”
That includes working with the UW–Platteville Stop the Hate group, the local affiliate of the national group that works in “preventing and combatting hate on campus as well as fostering the development of community,” according to the group’s website.
The survey results were released to students during PHS’ Pride Time Tuesday morning.
“Nobody’s trying to bury their head in the sand here,” said Valenza. “We are taking time to get good information from students and how they view the school and what are the problems.”
The Friday threat appears to have been spurred by what Valenza described as “a couple groups of students in our school that have loosely formed what I’d call group status, and those groups of students are in conflict with each other,” including “an incident of what I’d call racial harassment” that was dealt with through PHS’ code of student conduct.
“Students get angry with other students, and unfortunately they go to what’s easy,” she said. “That’s the whole purpose of this survey — to try to look through how much of this is a problem.”
Between 73 and 88 percent of students said they felt safe in such places as in hallways, bathrooms, locker rooms, classrooms and school buses, before and after school and during lunch, and when participating in extracurricular activities or during lunch. The smallest percentage of students who felt “safe,” 55 percent, was in “reporting dangerous or unsafe behaviors,” with 31 percent reporting they felt safe then “sometimes” and 13 percent saying they didn’t feel safe then.
About 13 percent of students said they had been bullied or harassed at PHS based on their race, with harassment of those students including comments or jokes, slurs or name-calling, bullying, exclusion and assault.
Another 55 percent of students said they had witnessed “race-based harassment,” including comments or jokes, slurs, bullying, exclusion and assault, in order. Almost half of students said they had “stood up or tried to prevent race-based harassment.”
Survey results indicated that most PHS students don’t believe discipline is race-based. About 24 percent of students disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement that “discipline is the same for all students regardless of race,” about 28 percent of students said they felt that parts of the school’s discipline code “may improperly lead a disciplinarian to improperly consider a student’s race,” and about one-eighth of students said they had been “involved with discipline that unfairly took into consideration my race or the face of another student.” About 70 percent of students said they felt “comfortable being around students of other cultures and ethnic groups,” with another 22 percent saying that was the case “sometimes.”
Another section of questions dealt with whether students felt safe in the school. About 20 percent of students said they did not ask for help if something was bothering them. About 13 percent of students said they were “teased, picked on, made fun of or called names one or more times per week,” while about 6 percent said they engaged in teasing behavior themselves.
When asked if the school district was overreacting, Valenza replied, “If that’s the case we’ll find that out. That was the whole purpose of the survey — how their daily lives are like.”
Last week’s incident comes two years after the school district changed principals at two schools and agreed to change how PPS disciplines students and reviews harassment complaints after a complaint by a parent to the U.S. Department of Education Office of Civil Rights.
“It’s a good reminder that we are still a work in progress,” said Valenza.