MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — A picture of a racist sign asking someone to prom in Big Lake is getting a lot of attention – and it’s prompted Black students in the district to share their experiences of prejudice.

Jennifer Alery is a mother with several biracial children who are in, or have gone through, the Big Lake School District. She says seeing the sign outraged her.

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“I just felt this the whole time my kids were going to school, so for it to finally come to light, it was very shocking,” Alery said.

Her children have shared the halls with the students in the picture. She’s not sure what the school can do, but says there needs to be accountability.

Alery’s daughter, high school senior Janaya Dimkpa, has her idea for how to hold them accountable.

“If those kids are going to be allowed at prom, then it’s not going to be a welcome place for everyone,” Janaya Dimkpa said.

 

(credit: Facebook)

Alery says her daughter doesn’t want to go to prom because she feels out of place.

The district said in a statement it’s addressed the actions of the students involved, but can’t disclose what’s been done because of privacy laws.

The father of the boy in the picture told WCCO the family is receiving threats, but wouldn’t say anything further. The mother of the girl in the picture had no comment.

Extra social workers have been brought in to the high school to help process any trauma from the incident. The district also says it will work with civil rights leaders to hold discussions on racial issues.

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Alery’s son Jayden Dimkpa graduated from Big Lake High School last year.

“We’re almost glad that this came to light because like it’s always just, yeah, been swept under the rug,” Jayden Dimkpa said.

He says he and his siblings have encountered racism at school many times from other students, teachers and coaches.

“[My brother’s] gym teacher, he threw a sweatshirt at his head and said, ‘Cover up your head,’ just because he had like curls,” Jayden said. “He’d come home sad [with] anxiety, puke on the bus because he like genuinely not want to go to school because he felt different.”

A spokesperson says the district doesn’t condone or accept racism in any form. The district also confirmed Tuesday that a janitor at the high school has been put on administrative leave for using a racial slur in a video.

Big Lake School District’s complete statement from Tuesday:

As related in our previous statement, the Big Lake School District was made aware late yesterday afternoon of a “promposal” post on social media. The incident involved high school students using a derogatory racial comment in conjunction with an invitation to a non-School District sponsored prom event. Over the last 24 hours, our administration has responded to this report by investigating the incident and addressing student, parent, staff, and community concerns. We want to assure our school community that the School District has addressed the actions of the individuals involved in this incident in accordance with School District policies, as the School District would do with any similar incidents. State and federal data privacy laws prohibit the disclosure of information about the resolution of any reports with respect to any individual student.

What we can tell you is that Big Lake Schools recognizes that events of this nature can be traumatic to our students, staff, and community. We, as a school, need to immediately and comprehensively respond to those concerns with understanding and support. This morning, additional social workers and counselors have been dispatched to our schools to help those students and staff who may wish assistance in processing and expressing their justified emotions and anger relative to this incident.

We also want to emphasize that the Big Lake School District does not condone or accept racism, intolerance, or discrimination in any form. School District Administration will seek to work with Civil Rights leaders and other professionals to hold discussions on race and related issues, and how we can better ensure acceptance, inclusion, and respect for all members of our community. We will continue to swiftly react to any additional concerns that evolve from this matter, if they should occur.

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We also wish to reiterate that our school has been dedicated to implementing the Hornet Way, as a method to develop and guide our students’ character and actions. The Hornet Way teaches the values of respect, honesty, kindness, responsibility, and fairness. We believe those values extend to all aspects of our school community. The School District is committed to ensuring that all students and staff are treated equally and can attend school and report to work in a safe, comfortable, and welcoming environment. Our expectations are high, and we expect compliance by all students and staff as well as members of the community who interact with our students and staff at school. We encourage any students or staff members who are experiencing discomfort or who are subjected to inappropriate conduct to notify an administrator or staff member to seek assistance in resolving those concerns. Our school is a community. We are not all the same, but we are united in our pledge to the Hornet Way, diversity, and respect for all.

David Schuman