DPS is mum about bigoted posts by East High students. Watchdogs say the district ‘normalizes’ culture of racism.

A series of racially charged social media postings by students at one of Denver’s most racially diverse high schools is triggering allegations by a coalition of community groups that Denver Public Schools is downplaying problems of racial intolerance.

The district won’t specify what set off the clamor at East High School, saying only that “it’s an issue over some sensitivity” and that the school and district administrators are “dealing with it.”

“We’re dealing with children and I can’t talk about certain issues because there are federal laws protecting children. …The district protects its students,” DPS spokesman Will Jones said this afternoon.

What Jones won’t talk about is a series of tweets, text messages and photos by a small group of white, female East students who, according to screenshots sent to The Colorado Independent, engaged in a string of racially degrading chatter and altered their signatures in varying ways to include the word “nigga.” Their social media conversation suggested that at least one of the students had been confronted about her messages and figured that “Nothing’s gonna happen to me.”

Jones wouldn’t comment on the details of what did happen to the student and others involved. Nor did East’s principal, Andy Mendelsberg in a mass email to families today saying that “Bigotry, bullying and inappropriate behavior are not tolerated at East High School,” but not mentioning the incident that prompted his letter.

Some community members see the district’s unwillingness to say what happened as an attempt to brush it – and other problems related to racial tensions – under the rug.

“The generic posting is insufficient and does not reflect a legitimate commitment to shifting the ‘normalized’ culture of racism” at the school, reads a statement signed by the Denver Justice Project, Project Voyce, Victim Offender Reconciliation Program, Accountability for Greatness, Ashmore Duval Consulting and Shop Talk Live.

East is one of Denver’s most diverse high schools. Of its roughly 2,500 students, about 47 percent are white, 28 percent African-American, 22 percent Latino and 3 percent “other.”

The coalition is calling for, among other things, a transparent depiction of the incident, a school-wide assembly on racism, white privilege, equity and power, and a public apology by the tweeters.

Mendelsberg’s email said in the coming months he plans diversity dialogues among current students and training about implicit bias and social media sensitivity for incoming ninth-graders.

UPDATE: DPS Superintendent and Deputy Superintendent Tom Boasberg and Susana Cordova issued a statement referring to “certain social media posts by students at East High School.” They said disciplinary action had been taken, but didn’t elaborate, citing federal law protecting student privacy. “We cannot state strongly enough that the images and words used are repugnant and offensive to our community,” they said.

Photo courtesy of Denver Public Schools.

A recovering newspaper journalist, Susan reported for papers in California and Nevada before her 13 years as a political reporter, national reporter and metro columnist at The Denver Post. “Trashing the Truth,” a series she reported with Miles Moffeit, helped exonerate five men, prompted reforms on evidence preservation and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in investigative journalism. Her 2012 project, “The Gray Box,” exposed the effects of long-term solitary confinement. The ACLU honored her in 2017 for her years of civil rights coverage, and the Society of Professional Journalists honored her in April with its First Amendment Award. Susan and her two boys live with a puppy named Hymie whom they’re pretty sure is the messiah.

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