A group of Newton North High School students who drove through the school parking lot waving a large Confederate flag out a car window have sparked a police investigation and a discussion over racial tolerance at the predominantly white school.
Both Newton police and school administrators are investigating, Mayor Setti Warren said.
“The actual act is under police investigation,” Warren said Wednesday night. “I’m hopeful we will have some forthcoming details from the Newton police about it.”
The students involved in the incident, which took place on Tuesday, have not been identified publicly. But Newton North’s administration has identified and spoken with the students who were involved, Principal Henry J. Turner said.
A video of the incident went viral on social media after a student who was upset by it posted footage on his Facebook page.
In a letter sent to parents on Wednesday, Turner called the episode “deeply troubling,” and assured families the school is taking it seriously.
“Newton North is committed to creating a school community that is welcoming and inclusive for all,” he wrote. “There are members of the North community who are deeply upset and hurt by the actions of these individuals.”
The video shows a red car circling Tiger Drive, the main road in front of the school, with the flag waving from the passenger side window.
Schools Superintendent David Fleishman called the incident “very upsetting” and said the schools plan to address it as a learning opportunity.
“We hope the students involved never engage in this type of hurtful behavior ever again,” Fleishman said.
Although school officials make efforts to have discussions about race with faculty and students every year, the Newton Public Schools still have work to do, Fleishman said.
“It’s sad that we have to deal with [such] issues in 2016,” he said. “In some ways, schools are a microcosm of the broader society.”
Confederate symbols have come under renewed scrutiny across the country since the shooting deaths of nine black worshippers at a historic church in South Carolina in June 2015.
Newton North, with nearly 2,100 students, 69 percent of whom are white, has dealt with anti-Semitism in the past year. Three cases of anti-Semitic graffiti at Newton North and other schools earlier this year prompted a community forum on race and discussion about the need to create a “welcoming environment” for all.
Warren said this latest incident is another example that the city has work to do to push back against racist acts.
“We have a tremendous amount of work to do to address making our community and our schools welcoming and inclusive for all,” Warren said. “We have started work within our school to address this, but we have to redouble our efforts.”
Fleishman said both adults and student leaders will be part of the school’s response to the flag-waving.
“We make progress by bringing in students’ voices to the conversation,” he said. “That’s how it works.”
Senior Tharun Kannan, who recorded the video on his cellphone and shared it on Facebook, sees what happened as another example of racial intolerance at the school.
“There’s been a lot of incidents,” said Kannan, 17.
“Racist graffiti on the bathroom wall. The administration likes to shut it down right away.”
A broader discussion on race and social justice is needed at the school, he said.
Students “are a little sheltered,” he added. “They don’t understand oppression, or why the flag is a hateful thing,”
“We take it as an opportunity for our kids to learn about how to be able to identify our opinions and state their beliefs,” Turner said. “They must recognize that they are doing something that is attacking someone else. That is not OK and not being a positive member of the community.”Samantha Gross
can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @samanthajgross.