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‘Help us feel safe at school’: Biglerville High School students call for social justice after racism concerns

Students, who wish to remain anonymous out of fear of retaliation, have created a Facebook page and petition where they share their experiences with racism.

BIGLERVILLE, Pa. — More than 1,500 people have signed onto an online petition which calls to help Biglerville High School students feel safe at school while holding students and staff accountable for alleged racist views within the school community.

The petition on Change.org also includes anonymous stories from students and alumni which detail their accounts of abuse by students and staff in the Upper Adams School District.

Creators of the petition share different examples of racism they say students experienced: 

  • “I am a 14-year-old black female student. [A teacher] told me Breonna Taylor’s death by police violence was her own fault.”
  • ”They saw me on the stairs and said, “Look what we have here boys, a live walking n*****! Where’s your posse?” They hit my books out of my hands and called me a pu**y and a stupid n*****. I got sent to the office for being late to class.”

The petition wants Biglerville High School to:

  • Issue a ZERO tolerance policy against racism and discrimination for all students, student athletes, staff, teachers, and administrators.
  • Implement punishments for students that racially target their peers and kick them off sports teams.
  • Issue a public apology to students of color.
  • Draft a new code of conduct with more detailed policies against racial and cultural discrimination.
  • Fire staff who are complicit with white supremacy

The petition comes as several social media accounts, including “Racism at Biglerville High School” on Facebook, have surfaced where students and alumni share the detailed discrimination they say they have experienced.

Students claim they are being asked to take down the social media posts. They tell FOX43 they are concerned they will be retaliated against for sharing their stories. They say they are also worried they will be “silenced.” 

“They’re sweeping it under the carpet like it’s nothing, they don’t know what it’s like to be judged by the color of your skin or ethnicity,” one student told FOX43.

“They literally stripped me naked in the office with the two deans of students staring at me. That was the first time,” said David Angeles, a Biglerville High School graduate.

Angeles says that happened twice in his time as a student; he says he was accused of being a drug dealer. He says his parents weren’t called either time, and no drugs were found.

“They’re going to see this and say, ‘why didn’t you tell us?'” explained Angeles. “I was just embarrassed. Humiliated.”

“Kids go through stuff at home, and they go to school to get their mind right. They can’t get their mind right, so they lash out,” said Ashley Armstrong, also a gradate.

Armstrong says she became one who lashed out and fought former classmates after she says some students repeatedly called her racial slurs. It happened many times over the years in her time as a student. Armstrong says her fists eventually stopped classmates from calling her names; however, she says students then targeted other kids.

“It’s not just the black kids. It’s the Spanish kids, a lot of foreign exchange students,” said Armstrong.

“I was always in in-school suspension, always, always, always. I have problems communicating with my wife, because I was always isolated,” added Angeles. “I just want it to stop. I have daughters now, and I don’t want them to go through what I went through.”

Officials say they are addressing the social media posts by having the high school principal and assistant principal available to listen and hear students who wish to share experiences, thoughts, feeling, and/or ideas. 

In a letter from Superintendent Wesley Doll to the community, Doll also encourages students to speak with their guidance counselors, if it’s more comfortable. 

“All across our country, people are exercising their constitutional right to speak out against injustice, including racial injustice and inequality. As a District leader it is important for me to listen and understand the imperfections that may exist in our democracy and understand how this impacts our students when they are in our schools. This process also includes continuing the conversations on equity, diversity, and inclusion in pursuit of solutions. Recently we were made aware of social media accounts that were created and titled ‘Racism at Biglerville High School.’ While social media may bring attention to a concern, it is not a platform that is conducive to addressing current concerns in order to find potential solutions.”

Doll goes on to state that faculty and stuff are working to address the concerns. He says the district is using protocols and policies which address equity, diversity, and inclusion. He adds:

“The District strictly prohibits discrimination, harassment and bullying of any kind. It has been and will continue to be the District’s policy to provide an equal opportunity for all students to achieve their maximum potential without discrimination on the basis of race, color or other protected status.”

Doll says Upper Adams School District has a variety of reporting methods for students and adults to notify district employees anonymously or face-to-face, according to Doll. People who think they have been subject to harassments or discrimination are encouraged to report it to their building principal. 

“Together, we will get through this most difficult time for our country and our School Community. If you have ideas or experiences that you believe can help as we navigate our way forward, we encourage you to share them with your school administrators. We welcome the conversation,” wrote Doll. “We will continue to review our practices, policies, and procedures to ensure that students in our care have equal opportunities that allow our children to become the people they dream of becoming. We want them college and career ready. We truly love all our students and we want each student to walk through the school door each morning feeling safe and comfortable to achieve their personal interests.” 

Doll also stated Upper Adams had police presence to “assist in creating a comfortable environment for the school community.”

A spokesperson for Upper Adams declined an on-camera interview with FOX43 on Tuesday, saying officials are receiving feedback from students, parents, staff, and community members. They said more could be released after that data is collected. They are encouraging those who have experienced discrimination or harassment to report it. People can go to UpperAdams.org, and click on about us to see Safe2Say Something information.

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