Saratoga Springs parents say racism is rampant in district

Saratoga Springs schools graph showing race/Ethnicity of students: White: 5,074; Hispanic: 314; Multiracial: 292; Black: 116; Asian: 110

SARATOGA SPRINGS – A group of parents whose children are enrolled in the Saratoga Springs City School District says its children have been subjected to racist remarks by other students, behavior the parents say is prevalent throughout the district. 

The parents, who asked not to be identified in order to ensure their children’s safety, told the Gazette that the district has yet to address the allegations of racist behavior in a comprehensive way. 

District officials, however, say they take such matters seriously. 

As a district, it’s very disappointing that any student, any child, would act in that way,” district Superintendent Michael Patton told the Gazette.

All of this comes as the FBI recently released its 2021 Hate Crime Statistics, showing a national increase in such incidents compared to 2020. 

Detail of incidents

Recent graduate Tiarah Swann said she encountered racist incidents each of her four years at the high school.

“I [didn’t go] a year at Saratoga High School without a racist incident,” said Swann, a 2022 graduate.

Swann said she heard the N-word used constantly in school. On one occasion, she said, a schoolmate suggested that she should be the next Emmett Till – a Black teenager who was abducted, tortured and lynched in Mississippi in 1955. On another occasion, a fellow student made racist and vulgar comments about her father, she said.

Some of the parents who spoke with the Gazette and also serve on the district’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion committee said their children have consistently seen or heard racist behavior in the school district, where just 116 students of the district’s 5,900 students are Black and another 110 are multiracial.

“I’ve seen videos of a girl singing the N-word and laughing about it,” one of the parents wrote in an email to Superintendent Patton in April 2022. “My daughter and son have been called monkeys on numerous occasions both joking and not.

“She was in a group chat in which certain kids called for the return of slavery, praised the KKK and wanted to give a lesson on lynching,” the parent wrote. “One of my son’s friends joked that he could shoot him and get away with it because the friend is white. My daughter says she hears the N-word on a regular basis in the hallways and the list goes on. I can’t count the number of times I have seen the N-word used in texts.”

In interviews with the Gazette, the parents also raised concerns about students saying they have “N-word passes” – a circumstance by which a Black student grants permission to a white student to use the slur.

“Another friend’s daughter was asked if she wanted to donate $10 to the monkey association,” one of the parents said. 

Screenshots of conversations one of the parents’ children were included in with other students in the district on the social media app Snapchat show students repeatedly calling others “Negro,” and say Black History Month is canceled followed by statements such as “slavery was a good thing but it’s sad that it doesn’t exist anymore,” with six crying emojis following it. 

Other messages show exchanges between students in which one kid writes that they heard someone tried shooting up the school and another person replies that it was a specific student because he was Black. 

The parents said the incidents have happened so much that their children no longer report such behavior, because they feel there are no consequences for the students. 

District officials, in response to reports of acts of racism in the schools, issued a school community-wide statement Monday to encourage to report instances of racism when they see it or encounter it.

An important step in addressing any form of bullying, harassment and/or discrimination, is to immediately report these occurrences to your building administrator so these matters can be investigated and resolved,” district officials said in the community email.

But some of parents said they feel the district isn’t addressing the issues or that the students involved aren’t facing consequences – such as the case when one parent contacted the district regarding the Snapchats being sent. 

To illustrate their point, the parent shared the following February 2022 email they received from a Maple Avenue Middle School administrator in regard to the Snapchats.

“There really isn’t anything else I am able to do,” the assistant principal wrote. “It definitely breaks the code of conduct, but did not occur in school, so leaves me limited in options.”

One of the parents said when she asks the district for updates regarding the incidents involving her children, the response is “it’s been addressed.”

However, one of the parents said the district doesn’t say how the complaints are being addressed.

“What’s being done?” the parent said. “There’s no action to repair the harm done to the student at the other end of it.”

“They’re saying the kids are getting consequences but then kids are posting on their social media saying they got away with stuff,” said Swann, the 2022 graduate.

Another parent said her son chooses not to discuss the behavior and remarks knowing she will bring it up to the district because the kid wants to “just make it through the day.” 

“It breaks my heart that my son thinks he has to accept it to get through school,” one of the parents said. 

The district held a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion meeting Monday in which they allowed people to share their experiences. Two parents that spoke with the Gazette and attended the meeting said it was good that people could share their experiences, but they still feel like the issue of racism wasn’t fully acknowledged and left the meeting feeling like the district has no real plan to address what is happening. 

In its email to the school community, the district said it is working with the Anti-Defamation League to make each school a “No Place for Hate” environment and the annual student-led Voices for Unity event at the high school is being worked on and will be held soon. That event allows students to share their experiences. The goal of the event is to make a more inclusive community, according to the district. 

Rise in hate crimes

These incidents are not singular to Saratoga Springs. 

Debora Brown-Johnson, president of the Albany branch of the NAACP, said they have heard anecdotally of similar incidents occurring in the Albany City School District. 

“It is of concern to hear and for students to experience this and for students to have to share this kind of hate and disrespect for one another and the differences among us,” she said.

One of the most recently publicized racial incidents in the Capital Region was in October 2022 when Guilderland High School students walked out of school to protest and raise attention to what they called a racist school climate that included racial slurs, books on Black history being vandalized and two students wearing blackface at a sporting event. 

Prior to that, the Gazette reported on incidents such as 20 Schenectady City School District employees signing a letter to the school board calling out racism being endured at the school by employees and students alike. In 2018, the Gazette also reported on Niskayuna students who allegedly hurled racial slurs at Black Schenectady students during a girls’ soccer game.

A 2021 report released by the U.S. Government Accountability Office studying hostile behaviors like bullying and hate speech found that about one in five students between the ages of 12 and 18 were bullied in school between the school years of 2014-15 to 2018-19. In the 2018-19 school year, one in four students reported bullying based on their race, national origin, religion, disability, gender or sexual orientation. 

“About one in four students aged 12 to 18 saw hate words or symbols written in their schools, such as homophobic slurs and references to lynching,” the report states. 

All of this comes as the FBI’s most recent data shows a growth in hate crimes nationally. 

According to the FBI’s supplemental 2021 Hate Crime Statistics released March 13 hate crimes rose 11.6% nationally in 2021 compared to 2020. 

Of the 10,500 single-bias incidents involving over 12,000 victims 64.5% were targeted because of “the offender’s race/ethnicity/ancestry bias,” according to the report. 

The parents said they feel students have become more emboldened to make racist remarks or participate in racist behavior. 

Culture and climate 

“I think there’s been a comfort of like ‘I’m not going to have consequences, this is OK, a lot of people feel like this,’” one of the Saratoga Springs parents said. 

University of Albany political science and international affairs professor Victor Asal said there are both political and cultural factors at play when it comes to people feeling more comfortable using racist language. 

He said since 2016-17, the use of racist language has become more acceptable. 

He said rap music uses certain language that, if used by other races, would be considered really offensive. 

“Part of the problem with that is a lot of people who listen to those songs aren’t aware that only certain people should be able to get away with using those words and they embrace those words too,” Asal said.

However, he said, there is a much larger problem that has emboldened some Americans to use racist language – the rhetoric of former President Donald Trump.

“He, I think, has also created an opening up of usage of terminology that for a very long time had been crossed out or at least a lot of people were very uncomfortable with certain people using them and he made it more comfortable and more acceptable by the fact that the President of the United States didn’t seem to be bothered by some of this language,” Asal said. 

Asal said people need to become more aware of these behaviors and acknowledge that those behaviors and language are unacceptable. 

Brown-Johnson said it needs to be determined where students are learning such language and behavior in order to fully address the issue. 

“Students aren’t getting this by themselves,” said the Albany NAACP leader. “It’s not just happening in their brains, they’re hearing it and they’re seeing it.”

Categories: -News-, News, Saratoga County, Saratoga Springs

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