PITTSFORD, N.Y. (WROC) — Pittsford high school students held a joint walk-out Wednesday, protesting the district’s response to what’s described as a “disturbing” racist video that surface this past weekend, and a lack of consequences for the student who made it.
Students taking part in the walk-out are from both Pittsford Sutherland and Mendon High Schools.
Students planning the protest say Pittsford Central School District officials are aware of their intentions.
The student protest began around 10:45 a.m. Media was not allowed on school grounds.
Majority of the protest was filmed and broadcasted live on Instagram via a student-made account called ‘diversifypittsford.’
Close to 500 students holding ‘Black Lives Matter’ posters gathered around Jaylen Wims, a senior at Pittsford who helped lead the conversation and asked the district’s faculty to take action against race-involved incidents.
“I want to address the feelings when we [students] have to report a race issue. I have experienced racism in Pittsford and every student of color here has also, whether they realize it or not,” Wims said. “I have told myself move on because of my own faith in the system. I’ve heard so many stories by my peers, whether their situation is being handled or they have to hear ‘we will talk to them about it.’ With no results, no consequences, no feedback… at least that’s what it seems. Students are facing an unclear order of events when reporting incidents. Pittsford needs to install a sense of security and a level of higher priority with the issue of race and fix the fine lines of unity. We need to work together, in unity. Going from a school level all the way to district level and beyond. It starts now.”
Wims and fellow teammates proceeded to chant ‘Black Lives Matter’ in front Pittsford Sutherland High School teachers as the walk-out came to a peaceful close.
Another roughly 400 students gathered at Pittsford Mendon High School.
Students say although this video was upsetting, they are protesting how the district overall responds to incidents of racism or inequality that take place.
“I know so many people, so many of my friends, who don’t even…,” Ameera Duarte, a junior at Pittsford said. “They’ll experience something racist in school and they don’t even feel comfortable enough to go to the school to report it because they know they’ll do nothing and time and time again that has just been proven.”
“Racism is a serious topic and they need to be aggressive, they need to be on it, people need to feel safe about it,” Wims said.
The rally was organized by Diversify Pittsford, a local group created over a year ago that works to address issues or racism and inequality happening throughout the area.
“When there is an event that somebody wants to attend, like a rally in Pittsford, we would contact in the group chat and say hey let’s all go to this and people would show up and it’s nice to have people to support you or something like that. And we try to meet as much as we can over zoom and talk about current events or talk bring up issues that we all want to talk about,” said Senior Maggie Keating.
Pittsford Central School District Superintendent Michael Pero was present at the student rally. He said the community is listening and pledged to work alongside students to stop racism in the schools.
“I’m sorry, this happened,” Pero said. “I’m sorry, if you’ve experienced any kind of racism in our schools. What our code of conduct would say, in situations like this is that we suspend a student and then we have a hearing where an impartial hearing officer comes in, listens to the case, and then makes a recommendation based on what the next step should be. And and so we are taking that level of severity in this incident.”
Officials from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office announced Sunday that a student-made video containing images of a weapon and racist messages circulated Pittsford Sutherland High School.
The video — which authorities say is believed to had been filmed months ago — was investigated for a potential threat. According to officials, the “disturbing” video involves a weapon that was determined to be an air-soft gun.
MCSO officials have interviewed the student’s family and plan on screening additional students who may be involved. Police believe there is no credible threat to the community’s safety at this time.
Deputies will be stationed at the school’s premise for a duration of time with the goal of providing a sense of security for staff and students at Sutherland High School.
“The video is unacceptable in our community,” officials from the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office in a Sunday statement.
In an email titled “Recent Racist Incidents,” Superintendent Michael Pero outlined the video and asked PCSD parents to hold their children accountable, emphasizing there is no room for racism at the school:
“Dear Families and Colleagues,
It saddens me to share that this week there were multiple racist incidents, mostly occurring outside of school, and most involving social media of some type. Among these incidents, was the posting of racist video by a PCSD student that was reported to me Friday evening. We investigated this and the other situations, took swift and serious disciplinary actions, worked directly with the families involved and in some of the incidents, involved the Monroe County Sheriffs Office. In more than one of these incidents, students in our schools were made to feel unsafe and that is unacceptable.
Parents, I am asking for your help.Please have a developmentally appropriate conversation with your child about the importance of speaking up as a bystander if racist, discriminatory, and/or biased words or actions are observed. Emphasize to your child that if they have been on the receiving end of any kind of hate-filled, racist, or derogatory speech, that they should report that to an adult at school as soon as possible. Please also talk to your child about the importance of valuing their peers and being a positive citizen. Last, I ask that you join me and our school community in condemning hate filled, derogatory, racist speech and racist actions in any and all forms. There is no room in our school community for racism.
My expectation is that our school environment is one filled with care, compassion, respect and empathy by and for every single student, without exception. Thank you for your assistance in helping to make this a reality.
Pero said the district is working on taking corrective action against the student and anyone else involved.
“We’ve worked with students and parents and on our code of conduct, and what our code of conduct would say, in situations like this is that we suspend a student and then we have a hearing where an impartial hearing officer comes in, listens to the case, and then makes a recommendation based on what the next step should be. And and so we are taking that level of severity in this incident,” Pero said.
In the meantime parents have expressed concern for damage incidents like this have on students.
“My oldest was having severe anxiety when we were talking about it,” said parent Tharaha Thavakumar. “I had that racial trauma happen to me as a student, so I made sure I talk to my kids about it.”
One parent saying the district should take more action instead of words.
“They have said some very good words but there needs to be ongoing action to back that up we really need to step it up because right now a lot of people have been harmed,” said Analise Johnson Smith.
The district sent an additional statement to parents Wednesday evening, saying:
Dear Families and Colleagues:
The investigation into the most recent video allegations led to the discovery of additional information this afternoon. The investigation has revealed that a group of three PCSD students were sharing videos with hateful and racist content among themselves with the intention to one up each other for shock value. It appears these videos were recorded 4 to 8 months ago and were released recently. All parties involved will face the highest level of accountability. We continue to work collaboratively with the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office and value their support and expertise.
I want to again recognize the students who brought this information forward. I know it is not an easy thing to do, but by following the “See Something Say Something” protocol, those students are leaders whose actions speak to protecting the safety of their fellow students while also helping to move the District forward to eradicate hateful speech and racism from our schools.
I am proud of the students who organized and participated in the demonstrations at both high schools this morning, particularly as many of them have been on the receiving end of demeaning and racist comments. Their experiences with racism in our schools and the harm it has caused is not acceptable on any level. As a district and community, we need to do better. The hundreds of students who participated in the walk-out was a clear demonstration of their passion for unity and accountability.
As the District moves forward, the voices of these students will help guide the way. We have several student volunteers on various committees working with us on our District initiative of equity and inclusivity and know their contributions will be invaluable. I encourage all students to continue sharing their voices and working with us to end racism.
Superintendent of Schools