Catholic school joins Johnson County district probing teens’ ‘explicitly racist’ post

·4 min read

Both the Olathe school district and a parochial school in Lenexa are investigating a racist social media post involving two high school students.

Over the weekend, a photo circulated of a male Olathe South High School student asking a female St. James Academy student to homecoming using a racist sign. The photo of the white boy and girl sparked widespread outrage.

The sign reads: “If I was Black I would be picking cotton but I’m white so I’m picking you for HOCO.”

Principals at both schools say they are investigating the incident.

St. James Academy Principal Shane Rapp said in a message to families over the weekend, “We are aware of an offensive post on social media that included one SJA student. Racism in any form is an assault on human dignity.”

Rapp told The Star in an interview that school officials have been in touch with the girl’s family.

“We’ve spoken to the family and we’ll continue that conversation, and continue gathering information,” he said Monday. “We also reached out to Olathe South and are figuring out what information they might have to make sure we all have an understanding of the circumstances. We’re doing our best to figure out all of the relevant information before we make decisions on our end.”

Rapp said he could not “speak about specifics of any student disciplinary actions, but we take our students’ behavior in person and online very seriously.”

St. James Academy gathered its students in the gym on Monday, he said, to discuss the incident, as well as, “for us as a Catholic school, what our faith teaches us about racism and our responsibility to respond to it and speak out against it.”

In a message to the community he wrote: “Our Catholic faith demands we see one another with the dignity due to sons and daughters of God: ‘Created in the image of the one God and equally endowed with rational souls, all men have the same nature and the same origin. Redeemed by the sacrifice of Christ, all are called to participate in the same divine beatitude: all therefore enjoy an equal dignity.’

“Racism in any form is an assault on this dignity. We ask that you have a conversation with your children this weekend about the importance of seeing each individual as their neighbor and as a brother or sister in Christ while we prayerfully discern the best way to handle the situation at hand.”

In Olathe, district officials said they are continuing to investigate the racist homecoming sign. In a letter sent to parents, Dale Longenecker, principal at Olathe South, said the school is working to contact all those involved, including the guardians of the students with the sign.

“At Olathe South and in the Olathe Public Schools, we are committed to creating an inclusive and safe environment for ALL our students. The type of behavior displayed in the social media post does not meet the expectations of our core values. Any behavior like this will be immediately addressed in accordance with our Student Code of Conduct,” he wrote in a letter to the community.

Olathe district spokeswoman Maggie Kolb said in a statement on Monday that, “The district and school are working through the investigation process and are currently interviewing all students and families involved to provide due process. However, it is important to note that the behavior exhibited in this situation is unacceptable, will not be tolerated and does not reflect our core values of inclusivity or who we are as a school system.”

“…Our Department of Diversity and Engagement is working to support our students and staff during this challenging time and help us address real concerns in a timely fashion.”

Meanwhile, officials in the Park Hill school district are investigating a racist petition calling for a return of slavery, which was circulated online by students at Park Hill South High School.

They are the latest in a string of racist incidents at Kansas City area schools in recent months.

In July, the Lee’s Summit school board reinstated a teacher and coach, going against the superintendent’s recommendation that he be terminated. While filing a disciplinary report, the teacher repeated a racial slur to a student, who he was writing up for using the slur.

Around the same time, a Harrisonville High School science teacher was fired by the school board after he was accused of making several inappropriate and racist comments.

This past spring, the Olathe school board unanimously agreed to fire Olathe North High School’s head baseball coach Pete Flood after he allegedly used a racial slur toward a Black player.

And in April, Pembroke Hill School officials started an investigation to find out who wrote “KKK” on the side of a student desk — a couple of months after a swastika was found in a classroom on International Holocaust Remembrance Day.

Includes reporting by The Star’s Anna Spoerre.

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting