FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) – Students of color at Homestead High School faced discrimination and racist remarks long before a viral social media post of a student in blackface, according to some students and parents in the school system.
The viral post – a picture of a girl, smiling, in blackface – has prompted outrage, but it was just the tipping point. A lockout at Homestead ensued Thursday amid protests at the school, stemming from the post that also includes a video of a girl making offensive and derogatory comments about Harriet Tubman.
The post began circulating this week, however, SACS administration said it was originally posted last summer and they began investigating Wednesday. Many commenters found the post even more offensive due to the timing of Black History Month.
The Instagram account that originally shared the post livestreamed a video Thursday morning of students protesting at Homestead and voicing their concerns.
WANE 15 livestreamed a 1 p.m. press conference in which SACS Superintendent Park Ginder addressed the viral post.
“It’s imperative that, as a community, we understand everybody’s value– and that means everybody,” Ginder said. “This won’t be tolerated.”
Students said at least one fight broke out during the protest. The district did not comment or confirm any fights.
WANE 15 asked Ginder about another social media post that showed a gun with a caption telling the student in blackface to “come on out.”
“We saw that too,” Ginder said. “The investigation has gone on, and we’re confident about where that came from or didn’t come from.”
The superintendent did not elaborate further on the posts or the fights that students allege.
Ginder estimated about 50 students gathered in a meeting with administrators, and while the viral post prompted the meeting, the conversation encompassed talk of discrimination policies, the language used surrounding topics on race and improving the school culture beyond this specific situation.
Ginder said no comments would be made directly about the student depicting blackface because she is a juvenile.
Indiana Ultimate Fort Wayne, a cheer organization that WANE 15 has confirmed was connected to the girl in blackface, announced Thursday the student is now a former athlete and no longer associated with the group.
“We have been made aware of recent social media posts in which an athlete associated with our gym is seen engaging in racist behavior and making racist comments… Indiana Ultimate condemns such behavior, and this student is no longer with our program.”
According to Homestead’s event calendar, there is no school Friday, a move that was already scheduled as a teacher in service day, meaning students would not be in school anyway.
Fort Wayne President of the NAACP, Larry Gist, told WANE 15 this isn’t the first time racism has been reported in the school system.
“If administration would do their job when they get these complaints instead of pushing it underneath the rug, maybe stuff like this wouldn’t even have occurred,” said Gist.
Here are two emails sent to families in Southwest Allen County Schools:
The purpose of this message is to acknowledge awareness of a situation and communicate with our students, staff, parents and community.
The district is aware of a social media post involving a Homestead High School student. The image, although taken last summer, is circulating now, and is highly offensive and no way represents our district’s values and efforts to provide a school culture that is safe, supportive and welcoming for all students. The student involved is not on campus today and we are working to take appropriate next steps.
We take great comfort knowing our student body will not standby or be a part of intolerance and hate. Not only did they make us aware of the image, sharing it with the staff, many of our students stood in unity in a peaceful protest prior to the start of school this morning.
Recognizing a incident of this nature will affect not only our students but our entire community, we will be communicating further with you later today. We are working with our students now.
As promised, we said we would communicate with you later today, and on behalf of SACS I would like to thank you for your patience. Ideally, I would have communicated with you earlier, but our time and efforts were spent with our students.
This morning, we let you know of a social media post that we became aware of yesterday. The nature of the post was racial, and because of its vast circulation throughout our community, our students arrived at school to stand in solidarity with their peers in a peaceful protest prior to the start of school.
It was obvious after the bell rang to start the day, students still needed to talk and to be heard. Students moved into a classroom, and then to the auditorium as the group grew. Administrators worked to listen to the group’s concerns, and moderated the conversation, asking for ways in which our community could better strengthen school culture for all students. Many suggestions were merely ideas, and others were a blueprint to change. It was enlightening and heartbreaking at the same time. The conversation was at times loud and emotional, and other times, direct and poignant.
With tensions high, there were instances where emotions played out in poor student behavior and conduct. As a precaution, it was decided to issue a lockout at Homestead. A lockout allows for business as usual in the school, but no one leaves or enters the building. At approximately the same time, our SRO’s were made aware of new social media post where a threat was made and a gun was pictured. School administrators decided to hold the students in the classroom/period they were currently in until the end of the day while law enforcement investigated the post. The Allen County Sheriff’s Department was able to trace the threat to an individual outside the SACS district and made an arrest. We are thankful for their assistance throughout the day.
Today our district was challenged. The racial unrest we are seeing across the county was front and center in our community. To move forward, to be better, we must continue to facilitate and engage in conversation and take action that strengthens not only our culture at SACS but resonates throughout our entire community. We took a step forward today, but our work is just beginning. We remain committed to this effort.
You will receive further communication from me in the near future. Included will be our next steps.
SACS District Office
Thursday, Ginder encouraged parents of students to “be honest” when having conversations surrounding this issue.
The superintendent said he spoke with several classes.
“The only way we can make this work is to understand that your peers, other Homestead Spartans, are hurt. And the way you respond to that is going to be important. As we all know, there are agitators in every crowd. It’s imperative we know that cooler heads prevail, and we continue to talk,” he said.
The latest data from Indiana’s Department of Education shows 5.3% of Homestead students were Black or African-American as of the 2020-2021 school year. That accounts for 163 students out of 2,503 enrolled in the high school.
Nearly 78% of Homestead students are white, and all the minorities combined represent 572 students.
Families can look at population and diversity data for any high school in Indiana on the website for IDOE.
Although this is far from a comprehensive list, here are some of the many educational tools available online to educate about antiracism:
- How the History of Blackface Is Rooted in Racism (History.com)
- Know the Issues | Resource Library (NAACP)
- Anti-Racism Resource Library (American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry)
- Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (Visit Fort Wayne)
This is a developing story.