How Naperville 203 is responding to 'racially insensitive' post on Craigslist

  • Naperville Unit District 203 is responding to a "racially insensitive electronic post" involving students at Naperville Central High School by focusing on education efforts about the benefits of diversity and the pitfalls of hidden bias.

    Naperville Unit District 203 is responding to a "racially insensitive electronic post" involving students at Naperville Central High School by focusing on education efforts about the benefits of diversity and the pitfalls of hidden bias. Daily Herald file photo

  • Naperville Unit School District 203 school board president Kristin Fitzgerald

    Naperville Unit School District 203 school board president Kristin Fitzgerald

 
 
Updated 11/19/2019 5:03 PM

Naperville Unit District 203 is responding to a "racially insensitive electronic post" involving students at Naperville Central High School by focusing on education efforts about the benefits of diversity and the pitfalls of hidden bias.

Even before news broke of the Craigslist post, showing a picture of a black student in class with the heading "Slave for Sale (NAPERVILLE)," the district had two community forums about implicit bias scheduled for Thursday.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

After news of the post began to spread Monday, district officials said they want to work with the broader community to teach empathy and inclusion so similar comments won't be made again.

"We want to send a strong message that racism, discrimination and intolerance are not tolerated," school board President Kristin Fitzgerald said Tuesday.

The post, she said, "is not a representation of our school or our district."

Administrators expressed a similar sentiment in a written statement: "We firmly believe that this incident does not reflect the climate and culture of Naperville Central."

Once the district became aware of the post, the statement said, administrators "took swift and appropriate action steps to address this situation and the students involved."

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The district did not specify the disciplinary actions taken. But the statement said state law forbids the use of "zero-tolerance" policies that result in automatic expulsions for certain actions, and officials believe "restorative practice is more effective."

"Administrators and school social workers identified follow-up supports for students involved and provided a space to promote healing for the larger student community," the statement said.

The forums Thursday also could help with healing, Fitzgerald said. Planned at least a week before the Craigslist post became known, the sessions are part of the district's Focus 203 community engagement series and are set to address "Implicit Bias and Courageous Conversations."

Rakeda Leaks, who is in her second year as executive director of diversity and inclusion, will be facilitating the discussions.

The district invites all community members including parents, business owners and residents, to attend the events, either at 9 a.m. in rooms A and B at the Naperville Municipal Center, 400 S. Eagle St., or at 7 p.m. in the learning commons at Naperville North High School, 899 Mill St.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Khalid Smith, a District 203 parent involved with the SUCCESS group, which advocates for black and minority students, said he was not surprised by the post, but angered that it happened. He said he wishes there was better education about morality as well as the segregationist aspects of American history, such as slavery.

"A lot can be attributed to the fact that we as adults as leaders in the community ... really do not do a good job of teaching our kids and the younger generation the effects that racism has had on the African American community and on the community as a whole," Smith said. "We've got these atrocities that happened in American history and these stains and sins, and we can't forget it, we have to grow from it."

City officials say they are taking steps to try to create growth from racial tensions with their Naperville Neighbors United forums led by city council member Benjamin White. The next event in the series is set for 7 p.m. Wednesday at the Naperville Municipal Center with the topic "Implicit Bias: Part II" as a follow-up to a session in August that also was about the unspoken prejudices people harbor.

Mayor Steve Chirico said police have told him they are investigating the Craigslist post, but because the situation involves juveniles, they could not tell him much more.

Chirico said he wants to understand what happened with the post before commenting on it specifically. But he said this situation -- as well as the recent case at Buffalo Wild Wings in Naperville where a multiracial group was asked to move away from two white customers known to hold racist views -- underscores a need for better communication.

"We need to talk, all of us, and make sure people understand one another and try to, again, just learn about each other's differences but also what we have in common," Chirico said, "so everyone can really be more enriched by our differences as opposed to being polarized by them."

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