Mundelein High principal after racial slur: 'We have to rise above this'

The swift response to an instance of racially insensitive conduct reported Tuesday at Mundelein High School also comes with a challenge to students.

"Whether we want it or not, it's making a statement about our community," Principal Anthony Kroll said Thursday in a brief but powerful address to a hushed gym packed with students during a special all-school assembly. "We are stronger than that. We can't control what particular people say, but we can address it."

Mundelein Police Chief Eric Guenther, village Administrator John Lobaito and District 120 school board member Laura Vogt stood nearby but did not address students.

After Kroll's short but impassioned delivery, students were told to report to their classrooms for frank discussions of what can or should be done about "hate speech."

"What do you want to see?" Kroll asked. "We're going to take your comments and form action plans behind them. Ultimately, this makes our community worse if we don't address it."

He said the discussion should be assertive, not aggressive, and asked students to keep comments off social media. He also asked them to wear red and gray - the school colors - Friday as a show of unity. A pep rally is planned as part of the winter formal dance.

"We have to rise above this," Kroll said.

He was referring to what everyone knew: a freshman girl was filmed at school wearing six small earrings that, when put together, spelled a racial slur.

The 8-second video was brought to Kroll's attention Tuesday and the girl immediately was suspended, the typical minimum punishment for action of this nature, according to school officials. Details were not released.

School officials say they acted quickly in response to outrage from parents and others.

"The reaction from people was, 'This happened. Now, what are you going to do about it?'" said MHS spokesman Ron Girard. "We have to tackle this now, head on, right away."

Girard and Kroll said overt instances of this type are rare at MHS.

"That's why it took everybody by surprise," Girard said. "That's not who we are."

Before the assembly, Superintendent Kevin Myers reiterated the school does not tolerate hate speech, and diversity was one of its greatest strengths.

"We're going to get feedback from our students and use it for the next steps," he said. What that will involve is to be determined but is expected to evolve in coming weeks.

"It might lead to some policy changes," Myers said. "It may create a student panel that reviews certain issues."

Senior Ricky Rodriguez, student council president, plans to say a few words about the issue during Friday's pep rally.

"I was taken aback. I never expected this to occur at Mundelein High School," he said after the assembly. "It's important to learn how to deal with these things."

Andrew Owens, a senior and president of the National Honor Society, said MHS is the most diverse high school in the area. He said he was surprised at how quickly school officials reacted.

"We took steps forward today to create a better environment for students," he said. "We have a unique opportunity to make whatever future we want to make."

  Mundelein High School Principal Anthony Kroll addresses an all-school assembly Thursday regarding next steps in dealing with racial insensitivity at the school. Steve Lundy/
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