‘This Is So Unfair’: Illinois Students Stand Behind Staff Who Supported Them During Protests Sparked by Racial Incidents

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Nearly 100 students at Oak Park and River Forest High School in Illinois staged a sit-in on Monday in hopes of forcing administrators to reinstate two staff members they say were wrongly suspended for supporting student protests.

Anthony Clark, a special education teacher at the school, and Shoneice Reynolds, a secretary to the assistant principal, were placed on paid administrative leave after several students staged a walkout last week on the anniversary of Florida teen Trayvon Martin‘s death, OPRF parent and activist Makesha Flournoy told the Chicago Sun-Times. Flournoy  said the walkout was also in protest of racial injustice.

Oak Park and Forest Run High School
The two staffers were suspended for allegedly coordinating a student march, however, students say the effort was the doing of student organizers. (Image courtesy of WGN 9)

Students said they were told the employees were suspended for allegedly organizing last week’s walkout and student march. However, sophomore Antoine Ford said that simply isn’t true.

Ford, a student organizer at the school, said he’s responsible for coordinating last week’s demonstration, as well as Monday’s sit-in, and neither Clark or Reynolds had a role in the student-led effort. Like many, Ford was upset over the staffers’ sudden suspensions and demanded an apology from the school district.

“These are teachers that go above and beyond for us,” Ford told Chicago’s WGN 9 of the staffers. “They’re like a mentor, a father figure, a mother figure and things of that nature. So they always go above their pay grade.”

Jocelyn Meraz, a sophomore, shared similar words about Clark and Reynolds, saying the two have important roles at the school, especially for students of color.

“Until we get them back, we’re not going to stop,” said Meraz. “They have to come back. This is so unfair.”

Just after 12:30 p.m. on Monday, close to 100 students could be seen lounging on the floor inside the school’s main lobby, according witness video provided to WGN9. A small group of students remained inside the building well into the night and refused to leave until officials forced them out.

As reported by the Sun-Times, it was around 9:15 p.m. when school officials told the eight or so remaining students that they needed to leave, after which a handful of parents, who supported their cause, picked them up and drove them home.

Ford told the newspaper that students plan to hold more protests if Clark and Reynolds aren’t reinstated by Wednesday. However, district leaders said the employees cannot be reinstated until an investigation is complete.

It’s still unclear what exactly is being investigated, students say.

OPRF has made headlines already this year following a string of racial incidents, including racist graffiti found scrawled in a bathroom and images of swastikas that were airdropped to students’ phones during an assembly, WGN 9 reported.

The school, which has a majority-white student population, was also recently featured in the Starz documentary series, “America Like Me,” which followed several OPRF students and examined race issues at the school.

In light of the outrage over Clark and Reynolds’ suspensions, a spokeswoman for the school issued the following statement:

“While the District cannot comment on personnel matters, we can affirm that we are reviewing the events of last week related to the student march and that we have placed on leave certain staff during the course of our review. The leave is not a decision of wrongdoing but rather a standard approach when the District is conducting a personnel review. As always, the District’s first priority is the safety of our students.”

Watch more in the video below.

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