LADUE • Dozens of students from Horton Watkins High School in Ladue walked out of class Wednesday to protest recent racially charged incidents.
The students, who assembled outside the high school after noon, said they didn’t feel the incidents were being taken seriously by administrators. Several African-American students and parents said they wanted stricter punishment for the students responsible and a stronger stance from administrators on the racism they feel at school.
At least 150 then organized a march near the school.
“We’ll come back to school when they treat us right,” said student Tajah Walker, 15, who led the protest. “If they suspend me, they better suspend everybody.”
The student march led to the district’s administrative offices. There, students confronted district spokeswoman Susan Downing, demanding to speak to the superintendent, who came out of the offices for a few minutes before going back inside.
“If that’s how you feel, then we need to fix that,” Superintendent Donna Jahnke said. “But we can’t fix it if you all won’t work with us.”
Jahnke, who is white, said she knew she didn’t understand what it’s like to be an African-American and wanted students to work with her. Students were not satisfied with the administration’s response.
“She has the privilege to sit there and give us the fluff answer,” Tajah said of Jahnke. “ ‘Sorry’ don’t fix everything.”
In the past week, two white students have been disciplined for saying that black students should go to the back of a school bus. The white students were chanting “Trump, Trump, Trump,” according to the school district.
Tuesday evening, Ladue residents told the district’s school board that the incidents were not isolated. Tajah’s mother, Tango Walker-Jackson, said her daughter had endured five incidents this school year.
At Wednesday’s protest, black students took turns giving emotional personal narratives of how they don’t feel valued as much as white students. Some said they had heard of black students’ getting harsher suspensions for more minor offenses. Some said they were unfairly reprimanded at school for refusing to stand for the pledge of allegiance to a country they don’t believe gives them justice.
“If you don’t have a struggle, you can speak for the people that do,” sophomore Sydney Alexander said to the white students who had come out to protest. “Use your privilege to speak for me. Don’t let this be another wasted conversation like every other one was.”
Ladue has said it was already working on a number of tolerance initiatives before the bus incident, including holding diversity and equity training for staff and hosting a student play and discussion about race.