Chamberlain school board to address racial issues

Chamberlain, South Dakota (AP) May 2010

A school board president in southeast South Dakota said officials will work to address racial issues in the district after students wore “White Pride” T-shirts to school.

Board president Susan Knippling said at a meeting May 10 that the board will work with American Indians and other minorities to discuss institutional racism. Indian students make up one-third of the 905 students in the district.

“We all closed our eyes and didn’t look at the elephant in the room,” she said. “It’s been brought forth now; there is an elephant in the room. We really do intend to do whatever we can about it.”

The issue is surfacing two weeks after six students wore “White Pride” T-shirts to school and four of them went home after refusing to change.

A derogatory slang term for impoverished white people also was on the back of each shirt, along with a symbol often used by white supremacists. On the front of the shirts was the word “Peace” and a peace sign.

One of the students, 16-year-old Codie Novotny, said at the time that the shirts were a response to accusations by some Indian students that white students and teachers were racist. She also said Indian students were allowed to wear clothing proclaiming “Native Pride.”

A parent-led group calling itself the Coalition for Cultural Equality brought a resolution to Monday’s meeting asking the board to address racism.

Superintendent Tim Mitchell said teachers will spend a day on cultural awareness later this month and will take part in a South Dakota Indian Education Conference next year.

Mitchell said the district’s 100 teachers were surveyed, and two-thirds of those who responded said they thought there were problems within the district.

“Racism does exist,” he said. “There are things we do that cause hard feelings, so we have to be careful.”