‘It Hurts People’: High School Plagued By Racial Incidents Sees ‘White,’ ‘Colored’ Signs at Water Fountains

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A Milwaukee–area high school made headlines this week after someone taped “white” and “colored” signs above two hallway water fountains. Now, a group of local organizations are pressing school officials to take action.

Photos of the signs taken at Franklin High School made its rounds on social media earlier in the week, with words clearly reminiscent of the racial segregation practices of the Jim Crow era. Franklin School District officials sent letters to students, parents, faculty and staff after another student snapped a photo of the racist messages and posted it to Facebook.

“I took this picture today at school,” student Jacob Romanski wrote in a Facebook post on Monday, Jan. 22. “The principal was notified immediately, and I made sure this kid got into trouble. I really don’t want to see this again.”

The signs have since been removed, but students outraged by the incident say this isn’t the first time something like this has happened. Third–year student Bria Smith, who learned of the racist water fountain incident while out of the country on a trip, told local station Fox 6 there’ve been times when Black students at the school were racially profiled.

Smith’s sister, Amber, echoed her sentiments, saying prejudice among students is something that’s been happening at the school.

“I know the whole school is not bad – the whole city of Franklin is not bad,” the Franklin High alum told the news station. “It’s just individuals that taken this stuff lightly. It’s not funny. It hurts people.”

The signs were equally disturbing to the community at large, prompting a strong response from the NAACP Milwaukee Branch, League of United Latin American Citizens of Wisconsin, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Milwaukee Jewish Federation. In a joint statement issued on Jan. 23, the groups said they were deeply concerned about what had transpired and called on the district to be more proactive in preventing such incidents.

” … While we appreciate that administrators issued a statement disavowing this despicable action, the incident demonstrates the need for the school and the district to take immediate and ongoing action to make the school more inclusive and respectful of different cultures,” the organizations’ statement read.

“Unfortunately, Franklin High School, like many schools and districts, does not recognize or celebrate the federal holiday recognizing the achievements of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” they continued. “We ask that the district consider changing that policy. Today’s action highlights the urgency of taking actions to ensure that the school celebrates tolerance and inclusion as part of its curriculum and culture.”

Thanks to Romanki’s photo, Principal Michael Vuolo said the school was able to identify the student who posted the signs, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported. They stopped short of saying if that student would face any disciplinary action, however.

“Franklin High School values each and every one of our students,” Vuolo wrote in a letter to parents. “This act of intolerance by an individual does not represent the values of Franklin High School or the approximately 1,700 people who teach and learn here every day.”

“The display was offensive, hurtful and wrong,” he continued. “As a school community, we have a responsibility to treat one another with kindness, respect, empathy and compassion.”

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