Aldon Thomas Stiles | IVN
Parents, in response to a string of racially motivated violence and harassment at Los Osos High School, are advocating for the school to take a stronger stand against hate speech on campus.
Los Osos High, located in the Chaffey Joint Union High School District, convened a town hall meeting with the school’s African American Parents Advisory Committee (AAPAC) and Black Student Union (BSU) to address what parents and one student described as the pervasive“culture” of racism on the school grounds.
Approximately 30 adults attended the town hall to express their concerns and propose solutions.
Last month, a video surfaced showing a Black student being held down and whipped in the school restroom.
Screenshots of Snapchat messages and text message threads containing racial slurs and evoking harmful stereotypes were also made public.
During a swim meet in April at Chino Hills High School, white students from Los Osos taunted their Black teammate by calling him a monkey and making crude primate noises.
Chandra Howden, who serves as the school’s AAPAC President and is also the mother of the Black student, shared about how she was warned about letting her children attend Los Osos High School.
“I’m going to say about a half dozen people told me to be careful because they are very racist,” Howden said. “But this is our home school and I wanted to be optimistic that the school has gotten past the racial divide.”
Out of the total student population of 2,837 at the school, there are 178 Black students a little more than 6%.
The town hall panel included District Assistant Superintendent Kern Oduro, Los Osos Principal Eric Cypher, a Black student panelist representative, and the moderator Christee Lemons, an English teacher with Los Osos High School.
Students and parents reported a pattern of racism on campus that they believe is aided by a lack of cultural competence amongst the staff.
The student panelist, 16, claimed that because of this, students are “too comfortable” engaging in racially motivated harassment.
“We need to teach our staff how to treat Black students,” she said.
She recounted an incident that occurred during a lesson on cotton picking in one of her classes.
According to her, the teacher gave her the cotton first and then remarked about giving it to a Black girl.
The adult panelists confirmed the accuracy of the student’s claims and Lemons insisted that the situation was “dealt with” but did not say in what way and to what degree.
“Our staff needs a lot of work,” Lemons said.
The teacher in question still works at Los Osos.
The student panelist described another experience involving security guards at Los Osos, alleging a pattern of racially profiling Black students.
She asserted that when Black students are loud or passionate, it is misconstrued as aggression and is handled accordingly.
“So I dim down my voice,” she said. “I dim down my light.”
Parents criticized the school for being too “reactive” in their response to racism on campus.
When Principal Cypher agreed with this sentiment, saying that he was “tired of being reactive,” one parent expressed his hope that the administration wasn’t “selling us wolf tickets.”
The school brought Dr. Kirk Kirkwood, principal consultant with Village Life Education, to campus to conduct a four month training for the school’s staff on cultural competence but some parents feel that that isn’t enough.
“It’s hard for these students to learn when they think that their teacher doesn’t even find value in them,” Howden said.
Howden finds herself between a rock and a hard place.
“I’m in a position where I have to decide whether to stay to fight the good fight or to put my son in a school where there is more support and more students that identify with him,” Howden said.
During an AAPAC meeting, Cypher implied that his plan to further educate staff on cultural competence has faced pushback from some staff but he reassured the committee that most of them are in support of these efforts.
The message Cypher had for the school’s staff was “be on board or you will not find yourself here at Los Osos.”